In the San Dieguito Union High School District, there has been mass debate about the reopening decisions discussed during a board meeting on December 15, 2020. The five SDUHSD board members, responsible for making safe, viable, and educated decisions that directly affect all students, teachers, and families, were tasked to vote on whether or not schools should reopen after winter break. The plan included a one-day-a-week, in-person learning schedule that would start January 4, 2021, around two weeks before the conclusion of the first semester. Students who chose to go back to school would be on campus for one day a week, then perhaps in the next few weeks, they would return for two, and then three, and finally, four by January 27. Students would need to wear a mask at all times and must be, at a minimum, one meter apart from each other (about three feet, deviating from the CDC recommended six feet). Furthermore, there were no initiatives for new air ventilation systems in classrooms.
During the meeting, which took place at Earl Warren Middle School, a newly elected board member, Michael Allman, said, “I would propose we have a discussion right now about the value of ASB students’ opinions…I think the value in what they have provided and what we have to decide is very near zero; these are young kids, and this is a serious topic. To think that this board should place very much weight at all on what high schoolers think is a dereliction of our duty.” Allman’s statement caused massive uproar within the community. Students, teachers, and parents alike were enraged by the message of his words — students should have zero opinion, or zero say, in what the school board does.
What can be considered even more ironic is that there were five ASB student representatives from each high school in the district that attended the meeting and spoke on the reopening plans. I was able to speak with Carrie Su, the Executive President of ASB at Canyon Crest Academy and one of the student representatives who spoke at the meeting that night. Needless to say, Su was able to embody most of the opinions students and staff had about the reopening plans circulating the community. She also spoke about an email, one that the community became conscious of via social media platforms, between a worried staff member and Mr. Allman concerning going back to school.
“With the spike in cases, we should be working to provide more outreach for mental health and wellness for our students by allowing clubs on campus instead of bringing all teachers back on campus,” Su said during the meeting. “I want to let the community know that our students are aware and have been talking about an email that has been circulating around on social media. On behalf of our CCA community, I want to let you know that the response to this teacher’s message does not represent our character and our values. We may have different feelings and worries, but if my teachers have taught me anything, everyone deserves kindness, compassion, and common decency. On behalf of my classmates, we would love to tackle whatever difficulties we have using these values as a foundation.”
For a quick summary of the meeting in its full five-hour entirety, Su explained, “every month our district has a board meeting and at this month’s board meeting going in, tensions [were] already high with some comments made by a newly elected board member, and that the board was already going in with the plan with a spike in [COVID] cases as well. The board discussed the plan with one-day-a-week learning, but they took no action and didn’t really discuss what to do for teachers that were planning to leave except for hiring new substitutes… Another thing that also was a little weird was the majority of doctors at the meeting, although very qualified in what they do, weren’t actual epidemiologists or disease doctors. They supported the plan even while people in the community…did not.”
When asked about her initial reaction to the controversial remarks made by Allman that night, Su said she first felt angry: “In such a public meeting, broadcasted to everyone, with students and staff watching, how he could say that was definitely something that really frustrated me, and disappointed me as well…In saying that our [the student representatives] voices were zero, he forgets that we represent the thousands of students at school who we hear and speak on their behalf.” Furthermore, Su noted that she felt it’s not only disappointing to the community but also detrimental to students who do want to use their voices. “It pushes them back from speaking up.”
Finally, due to her seniority, Su has been able to see the district through all of its ups and downs, and although no one has ever seen anything like the events in 2020, she wanted to advise the next generations of SDUHSD students:
“First, to the future students of our district, I would want to say that your voices do matter, they matter at school, they matter in our district, and they matter at board meetings. When you combine them [your voices] and you work together and discuss and fight for issues that affect our school and our teachers, you can truly spark conversations and inspire those around you to take action. In future situations, when you have something you want to say, you should definitely speak up. Whether that’s done by public comments at a board meeting, emailing your representatives, or emailing an administrator, you should definitely do that and get your voices heard.”
Carrie Su and the rest of our student representatives at the board meeting that night show a bigger challenge for our schools. That we can’t be, and we won’t be, brought down by those who don’t believe in us. We may be teenagers, but these teenagers will soon become the next generation of voters, workers, teachers, and adults in our community. Our voices and opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s.
As of December 28, 2020, the SDUHSD board rescinded the decision to return to school on January 4, 2021.