(Photo: Maddie Qualls, The Puma Prensa)
By Maddie Qualls, staff writer
Since school closures last March, the return to school has been highly anticipated. The elementary schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools district returned in hybrid mode on April 1, and the secondary schools followed recently on April 26. Some parents especially have been invested in the reopening of schools over the past year and have even proposed potential legal action against SRCS.
Signs, billboards, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts have all been created by parents in order to communicate their frustration with distance learning and organize ways to get students back full-time. In the Reopen California Schools Facebook group, parents argue that students “need five days a week education for success and emotional wellness.” Similarly, the SRCS district has received around 50 emails from parents that express a want for their children to be learning in-person, stated Diann Kitamura, the superintendent of the district, in a recent interview. The most common reason of concern for parents is “about the isolation of students in distance learning and that inability to be social… The second one is the kids not doing well, academically, in distance learning,” said Kitamura.
The idea of getting students back full-time has inspired potential legal action against SRCS to demand a complete school opening. In a letter to SRCS trustees, parents and community members cite Senate Bill 98, arguing that the school district and board are in violation of the part of the bill that states, “A local educational agency shall offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.”
Mary Hawkins, parent of two students at Proctor Terrace Elementary School, said that she hopes it doesn’t have to come to a lawsuit, but she feels like “[she’s] lost a lot of faith in our public school system and, particularly, Santa Rosa City [Schools’] ability to meet the needs of all the children.”
In the letter to SRCS, a case from San Diego County is referenced. In the case, some parents from the Parent Association of North County San Diego sued state leaders, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, and the judge ruled that the elementary students shouldn’t have to remain four feet away from each other when the CDC says that they need a minimum of three feet distance.
“I might not agree, but I respect a person’s right to have their beliefs,” said Kitamura in reaction to the letter. “What I think is that the parents or community members who are leading this have information from a whole other district in Southern California that doesn’t apply to SRCS, and that doesn’t apply to what we’re doing.”
Hawkins has been in favor of returning to school partly because distance learning has been difficult for her family due to her and her spouse’s demanding work schedules, which created the issue of piecing “together where [her children were] going to do [school work].” It was hard on her children too because by the end of the day they were “done, emotionally and mentally.” Hawkins also added that it caused her to get “an email from [her] daughter’s teacher [saying] that she had a lot of work missing.” Overall, she said “it wasn’t a very valuable experience for anybody.”
Similarly, Cindy Culley, who is the parent of a Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School student and another child at Rincon Valley Middle School, expressed that distance learning “[was] not ideal for [her] children.” She compared the requirements of distance learning to the responsibilities of a job, having to “check [emails] every day and organize [their days],” which was hard for them at their relatively young ages.
Kitamura said that input from parents wasn’t necessarily a factor in deciding to reopen. The district was already planning on reopening as soon as possible because they want kids back in schools too. “One of the things that happened as a result of the feedback is that we wanted to be sure that we have actually more staff available for counseling services and support than we had originally thought,” added Kitamura.
The schools’ reopening in hybrid mode has been beneficial for some students, including Hawkins’ and Culley’s children. Hawkins said, “I’m really glad for them because I can just see how happy they are to be back in school.”
Likewise, Culley said, “It makes learning a lot more fun for [her daughter]” because “being able to interact with other students and with their teachers is more impactful.”
Kitamura said that she didn’t know of any parents who didn’t approve of schools returning, and she noted that “[she got] a letter from a parent, who’s also a teacher, that said that they’re very happy with the two days of [cohort] A and the two days of [cohort] B,” requesting that the schedule not be changed.
When asked how they feel about the system in place, Culley said, “I think it’s okay. I would prefer them going every day, [but] it’s better than nothing.” Hawkins also said that she is “a proponent for getting [students] back in school five days a week.”
Overall, Kitamura said that other than maybe 10 parents asking to go back five days a week, the announcement of the return in hybrid mode dramatically curbed parent complaints about distance learning, especially from parents of secondary school students.
Kitamura agrees with the sentiment of getting students back to school, but she “[stands] by what [they’ve] done as a district to get kids back as quickly as [they] could.” So far, Kitamura claims the safety features have been pretty successful with only a few sports teams having to quarantine and a few students testing positive, but she wonders what would happen in classrooms if occupancy there doubled.
Kitamura noted that everybody “has their own idea about what works best for their family, and the district’s job is to balance all that out with 15,000 students and 1,600 employees and 24 schools.”