A proposal to reopen in-person learning at middle and high schools after the Thanksgiving break was shot down by the Carlsbad Unified School District board Wednesday.
The district board ended up voting in favor of keeping its original plan to reopen secondary schools in January, but not before hearing strong opinions from both sides of the debate.
Dueling demonstrations took form outside Sage Creek High School 90 minutes before the virtual board meeting began.
In total, more than 300 parents, teachers and students gathered – one side for a delayed reopening, and one side for a faster reopening.
Teachers Union president Lindsey Gordon, who’s also a third-grade teacher and parent to two in the district, was a vocal leader for supporters of the delayed reopening. She stressed the plan to reopen high schools and middle schools in January is about avoiding situations they’ve seen in other districts.
"We want to make sure when we bring students back we do it right the first time and we're not flip-flopping back and forth between distance learning and hybrid,” Gordon said.
Proponents of reopening secondary schools used elementary schools, which have been open under a hybrid model for more than a month, as a sign reopening can be done safely.
But elementary school classrooms like Gordon’s are set up much differently. In Gordon's classroom there are fewer students -- just nine -- and they follow county COVID-19 health recommendations, like spacing desks six feet apart.
However, when it comes to reopening high schools, the plan calls for desks positioned significantly closer, some even at just three feet apart.
It’s a sticking point with Carlsbad High School sophomore Nate Watts who voiced his opinion at the meeting.
"Regardless of politics, science and research is what saves lives,” Watts said. “Nobody is immune to caring for the safety and heath of the community. The only way to care for Carlsbad is to stay safe and stay online."
Meanwhile, the group pressing for reopening in November, argued their children’s mental health might not eb able to take distance learning much longer
"Mental health matters more than a pay check,” parent Marny Bassett said from the picket line.
“Why are you dragging your feet? Why do our kids have to suffer?” Bassett asked. “Of course we want them to be safe, but mental health is just as much a priority."
Parent Sharon McKeeman called into the meeting from the demonstration.
“We've seen the grades come out. We're seeing kids that were doing well in person failing. We're seeing that distance learning is not working and students need that in person interaction,” McKeeman said.
The district is reporting a significant increase in failing grades.
If the two groups agree on anything, it's that the clock is ticking.
The board did approve a pilot program to bring some students with emotional, social, or academic difficulties due to distance learning back to campus early. That program is scheduled to start Nov. 30.
Board members also agreed on hiring more school custodians to help with extra cleaning, and agreed to purchase HEPA air filter units for every classroom.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Nate Watts as Nick Watts.