Guest Commentary: San Diego Unified’s lack of urgency for school reopening hurts children

Christin Bawa is a Pacific Beach resident, mother of three and healthcare provider
(Courtesy Christin Bawa)

It’s been 350 days since my children have seen the inside of a classroom. At the start of the pandemic, we, as parents, realized that keeping our kids home was probably the safest option. We bought into online school and hunkered down while scientists, physicians, and other experts figured out our next steps forward.

Fast forward 12 months and San Diego Unified is still closed for in-person learning.

On Feb. 18 a local group of parents and students in coordination with Reopen SDUSD met at Mission Bay High School to protest the lack of reopening by the district. The group, Reopen SDUSD, has been working since the start of the 2020-21 school year to get things safely reopened by pushing leadership to move forward with a concrete plan.

I have watched the effects of online learning and social isolation on my two school-age children. They have been stressed and more anxious, but continue to remain engaged in their school work. I am luckier than many other parents.

On Feb. 9, the California chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics came together to urge the prompt reopening of schools. As a result of school closures, elementary school kids face lower literacy, high school graduation rates and life expectancy.

Teens ages 12-17 have had a 31% increase in mental health emergencies after suffering through a year of social isolation. Our City Attorney, Summer Stephan, sent a letter to the governor detailing the negative effects on our children, including 644 child exploitation reports in May 2020, up from 148 in May 2019.

Rady’s Children’s Hospital has reported an 82% increase in child abuse consultations while schools have been closed. The list of negative effects on our kids goes on and on and it is clearly linked to online learning, social isolation and not having the guidance of teachers.

I know I can’t expect my children to suffer through another year of online learning and social isolation. For some, the issue of school reopening is even about survival. As a family, we will probably leave the neighborhood school we love so much. It breaks my heart to remove my kids from public school, but I know it is likely for the better.

Many families in which the parents work outside the home or whose children are failing the online learning platform have already done the same. Enrollment in our Pacific Beach Elementary is down over 10%. We would have lost at least two teachers, maybe three if funding had not been frozen by the state.

We grow more and more frustrated as districts in San Diego Country have been able to successfully move forward while our children sit at home. Some districts like Del Mar, our neighbor 15 miles to the north, released their safety plan to reopen schools on Aug. 12 and have successfully kept schools open through the winter surge. Why have so many districts locally and around the country been able to safely reopen and stay open, yet SDUSD has not?

San Diego Unified has yet to publish a Safe Reopening Plan, which is essential to keep school staff and children safe. Our district has also failed to negotiate beyond phase 1 (out of 4) of their reopening phases with the teachers union, the San Diego Education Association (SDEA).

Their lack of planning and negotiating over the past 12 months has led me and many other parents to research other educational options for my children. As of Feb. 23, the SDUSD announced an in-person reopening plan to take effect April 12. The plan is vague and lacks details once again. The reopening is contingent on teachers receiving vaccinations and San Diego County being in the red tier.

Vaccines are one piece of the puzzle to keep teachers safe. But, how the district enacts well-documented safety protocols is an even bigger issue. We have not seen plans for PPE allocation, classroom sizes, safety barriers and social distancing. The district has also touted a testing plan that would “catch” 90% of COVID cases, but they have yet to use it.

The safety protocols and testing have allowed other districts to reopen and stay open around the country during the 2020-21 school year. We know that if we can’t keep teachers and students safe and healthy, then we can’t keep our schools open.

The leadership of SDUSD and the SDEA are failing our kids and their stakeholders. The two organizations have failed up until this point to work together for the best interest of our children. After one year, the lack of a Safe Reopening plan shows true dereliction of duty to the children (and families) they serve.

We have lost faith in the San Diego Unified school district after multiple empty promises and lack of progress. We can no longer let our children suffer and be neglected by the education system that is suppose to serve them.

Prior to the pandemic, Mission Bay Cluster schools were thriving. Families have been moving into our neighborhood because of the improvement in the public schools. Unfortunately, the lack of in-person education will affect the continued growth of our community and its future, the children.

Christin Bawa is a Pacific Beach resident, mother of three and healthcare provider