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Letters to the editor about 'Ojai Peaceful Parents Protest' March 16

WEB IMG 2683Ojai Valley News photo by Austin Widger

 

"Ojai Peaceful Parents Protest" outside Ojai Unified School District office on March 16. The group's Facebook link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1126868234497028 

 

Community may be confused

JANE WEIL — President, Ojai Unified School District Board of Trustees

I would like to take this opportunity to lay out some facts that should help members of the community who may be confused. There especially seems to be a lot of misinformation about what other districts in our county are doing. Many parents believe other districts in our county are fully back in school. That is not the case.

OUSD elementary schools:

Our schools have been open in the hybrid model since October. Beginning March 22, all elementary classes will be back in person for four-hour days per week. Afternoons and Fridays will continue to utilize the distance-learning platform for all students, as approximately 30% of our families have chosen to not return to in-person class instruction.

Middle and high school:

Our secondary students will return to a full hybrid schedule on April 12. This is the first day of the fourth quarter and the first day back from spring break. We elected not to disrupt students' schedules the last two weeks of the third quarter before spring break, when many will be taking finals.

As in Ojai, most high schools in Ventura County will be opening April 12 in a hybrid model.

Fall 2021:

Our goal is to bring all students back five days per week, but the exact schedule will largely be guided by social-distancing requirements. The master schedule at Matilija Middle School and Nordhoff High School are being designed for a full return, but with the ability to adjust if social-distancing requirements are not adjusted by the Ventura County Public Health office.

COVID-19 funds:

The district has used COVID-19 funds to purchase IT equipment for families, PPE for teachers and staff, sanitization equipment and additional staff.

As a board member, I receive no salary, health insurance, benefit or income of any kind. The hours I work on behalf of the district are entirely voluntary. My children are long out of school, but I still treasure all that the district has to offer our valley and wish to continue to support its efforts to educate Ojai children. I will continue to hope that our community can work together even while facing these challenging times.

 

OUSD, administrators, teachers not to blame for results of pandemic

ANGIE GENASCI — Ojai

I am writing in response to the March 16 protest in front of the Ojai Unified School District offices and also after reading comments posted on the Peaceful Protest Facebook page. As a union president, I am in favor of activism. Activism in the form of protest has been at the heart of change in American since before the United States was formed.

What I'm not in favor of is blaming our school district and its administrators and teachers for the results of a pandemic.

As president of the Ojai Federation of Teachers, I have been elected to represent the vast majority of the educators in Ojai Unified, so when you blame our union, you blame the teachers.

In this position, I have worked with Dr. Tiffany Morse and the other administrators on all kinds of pandemic issues. We have read and reread the guidelines put out by the state.

The Ojai Federation of Teachers has at times been at odds with the district administration, but we have mostly worked together to find a way forward keeping students and staff safe. The union and the administration have always kept the students' educational and social-emotional needs at the forefront of every conversation and decision. As a community, we are doing all that we are allowed by the guidelines as quickly as we can.

Without a doubt, administrators and teachers have been steadfast in their dedication to their students. They have worked countless unpaid hours to help both families and kids get through a crazy year, only to be repaid today by a few parents letting our community know that it isn't enough.

We aren't Conejo nor are we Ventura, Oxnard, or Simi. We are Ojai. We don't have four administrators for every job, we have four jobs for every administrator. The OUSD staff continually go above and beyond.

The frustrations of parents are real and valid, there is no question of that. We empathize, many teachers are parents themselves. However, we also want to remain safe and follow the guidelines put out by the state.

— The writer is president of the Ojai Federation of Teachers.

 

Now is the time for creative solutions, answers

Mariekie Quinn — Ojai

Ojai Parents Peaceful Protest on March 16 was a success in our eyes and we appreciate the effort of Dr. Tiffany Morse and staff for coming out and trying to answer our questions. However, there are still many questions that need to be answered in a public forum, such as a school board meeting. As I told Dr. Morse, our conversations at the protest are still a back-room private conversation. In the interest of full transparency, her responses need to be made on the record for the public and in full detail. 

Below is a list of some of those questions.

In addition, the school board has the authority to direct district administration to get students safely back to campus, especially in light of the county moving into the red tier on March 17. Now is the time.

We are advocating for our children who have not been in the classroom for a year. It's great to see the work that has been happening around equity and getting students back to school, especially since parents have started to voice their concerns. I've seen problem solving and ideas abound since announcing this protest. But, has the district considered that all private schools in our community are open in-person? While the district is certainly not responsible for the inequity that creates in our community, it does have the ability to, at least partially address it, by proactively moving to reopen schools. Now is the time.

We have faith in our district staff and teachers that they can bring creative problem solving to bear on this problem for all children who would benefit by being back on campus at their school. Remember, the duty of a public school district is to educate our children. That is priority No. 1. Teacher and staff safety is, of course, important and is embedded in that primary priority. The safety of all essential workers is important. Nurses, doctors, those in childcare and other sectors have been working. We are not seeing spikes in numbers in those sectors when proper safety measures are taken. Now is the time.

We love our Ojai teachers and know they are working hard! If we need outdoor classrooms, Ojai can build them. Now is the time for creative solutions and the community is ready to help.

Some of our unanswered questions:

COVID-19 funding: How much COVID-19 funding has the district received so far? Where is the itemized breakdown of how it was used? How much was allocated to prepare to bring the students back to campus? What is the plan for the remainder that hasn't been spent? How much of Measure J funds have been reallocated for COVID-19 response?

Students' voices: Teachers have a union and rightly so! How are students' voices and needs being considered in the negotiation with the union on this matter? We do not have confidence that there is a strong voice working in the best interest of the students who are falling behind, suffering emotionally, and experiencing other negative impacts from not being on campus. What is the district's goal for the memorandum of understanding that is currently being negotiated with the Ojai Federation of Teachers?

No surprise questions allowed?: The school board has agreed to a policy that prevents "surprise" questions at public meetings. This is unacceptable. We ask our school board to hold a meeting with the COVID-19/reopening discussion as an agenda item to be conducted in a town-hall-style format that allows school board members and the superintendent to answer questions from the public. We understand that is not typically done; these are not typical times. Questions need to be asked and answered in a public, on-the-record forum.

Unknown enrollment numbers: What are the enrollment numbers for our district — for each school, each grade, each program? Why couldn't the district provide this in a timely manner in response to a recent Public Records Act request from a member of the public?

Outdoor classroom plans: What are the plans to take advantage of our beautiful campuses to create dynamic outdoor classrooms that can help teachers and students feel safe?

We feel that school board members are not representing parents. In comparison, Conejo Valley Unified School District Superintendent Mark McLaughlin took on the state and was awarded authorization for that district to return to campus prior to the county going to the red tier. Our students deserve the same strong advocacy. Now is the time.

Our valley has low COVID-19 case rates compared with other communities. The science is showing it is safe to go back to school. We need Dr. Morse to fight to change the rules for our students. Now is the time!

We are asking our elected board members to ask the superintendent these questions and to insist on clear responses and communication when responding to parents. But again and again, our elected representatives fail to do so. We are registered voters. Now is the time.

— Mariekie Quinn of Ojai has two children in Ojai Unified School District.

 

OUSD not doing enough to get students back in school

JEN BURKETT — Ojai

I am a parent of two children in the Ojai Unified School District, a first-grader and a fourth-grader. I also have a child starting transitional kindergarten next year. If elementary schools do not fully open next year, we will leave the district.

I am extremely thankful that the elementary schools have been told we will be opening four half days a week soon, but I am extremely concerned about our older students. An hour a week in person for high school and an hour every other week for middle schools is not an open school. I am disappointed in Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Morse, and the elected Ojai Unified School District board members' complacency. Getting the older kids back in school for an hour a week or every other week is not a win, it is a slap in the face to students and parents.

Dr. Morse is not doing as much as she could and SHOULD be doing. It is really hard when we see other Ventura County districts (with higher COVID-19 numbers than we have in Ojai) back in school, it is really hard when other superintendents are fighting the state for appeals, and getting them. Our superintendent is simply doing as she is told, and it is not enough. My children's safety and education depend on what she does. Again, her complacency is unacceptable.

Lastly, I want to mention the teachers and staff who WANT to be in school and are also frustrated with the current situation. My heart hurts for the position they have been put in.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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