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Garrison Elementary was forced to close because of sinkholes. / Image courtesy of NBC 7

Teachers and families from Garrison-San Luis Rey Elementary are adjusting not just to distance learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll also have to adapt to a new decision made by the Oceanside Unified school board: the permanent closure of Garrison Elementary School, and the revamp and modernization of the San Luis Rey Elementary School site.

Tuesday’s decision came after months of deliberation as well as site and cost evaluations. Last summer, both schools merged at the San Luis Rey site due to several sinkholes at the Garrison site. In the process, the district forced students from Garrison Elementary to transfer to San Luis Rey in the beginning of the current school year. An engineering report recommended the district remove and replace the entire storm drain system at an estimated cost of $13 million.

The board originally presented a few options: It could repair the storm drain system and reopen Garrison Elementary School, or continue to accommodate students from Garrison at San Luis Rey. The board also proposed closing both schools and moving all students to neighboring schools or coming up with some other plan.

A group of teachers from the merged schools were adamant that the board build a new school site at a new location and proposed Buddy Todd park in Oceanside. They reiterated those sentiments at Tuesday’s board meeting and in a letter to Superintendent Julie Vitale on April 16.

“We believe this to be the best possible option for our community of students, staff, families and neighbors. Both OUSD and the City of Oceanside have an inherent interest in investing in the future of Oceanside,” the letter reads.

But that recommendation wasn’t mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting. Parents and staff said they’re concerned about the environmental health risks to staff and students at the San Luis Rey site because it’s close to high-volume roads and a nearby airport. But at the same time, they said, they’re glad the district’s staff, students and families at the school will be able to stay together.

Michael Rael, a special education teacher at Garrison-San Luis Rey, said he and the other teachers at the school will be working closely with the district to redevelop the new site. He said he doesn’t agree with the board’s decision and thinks the school community is paying now for an old decision the district made to build the San Luis Rey site near the airport. He vowed to do his own research on the safety of the San Luis Rey site, but said he and the other teachers don’t plan to push back on the decision right now.

“We’re going to make sure we’re part of the committee and want to make sure we’re at the forefront of them making their decisions and the environmental part of it is still a concern,” he said.

Victoria Mariani, another teacher in the Oceanside Unified School District, also supported the idea of a new neighborhood school at a new location. She said staff will not be quiet about the inherent problems at the site no matter the outcome and will remain dedicated to the school’s students and families.

Some North County Beaches Are Back Open

Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed frustration Monday after beach-goers flocked to the ocean at Newport Beach and other California beaches over the weekend.

Despite his concerns, some North County officials opened beaches for exercise-related activities like walking, running, swimming and surfing on Monday. Encinitas officials opened Moonlight Beach and Oceanside officials (one of the last cities to close beaches) opened city beaches on Monday. Beaches in surrounding cities Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach remain closed — at least for now. Del Mar plans to open beaches Thursday and Solana Beach is preparing to open beaches for limited activities next week.

What We’re Working On

  • I looked into how three North County school districts are transitioning to distance learning upon returning from a less-than-normal spring break. School officials from Escondido Union, San Marcos Unified and Vista Unified spent the last few weeks wrestling with how to support families who can’t afford electronic devices and broadband or otherwise can’t access the internet. Escondido Union, for example, is offering families the option to complete paper packets of coursework instead of online work, and opened six community Wi-fi hotspots at school parking lots for families who don’t have access to broadband.
  • After learning more about the ways teachers and students will communicate online, I wondered how districts like San Dieguito Union High School District and Poway Unified School District — which recently adopted sweeping restrictions on the ways teachers and students interact online — will enforce those policies. I talked to law enforcement officials and child abuse prevention advocates who said they’re worried those policies will go out the window and that online learning will open a backdoor for predatory teachers to sexually abuse and exploit students.
  • And in a new story, Jesse Marx and Maya Srikrishnan report that some doctors and nurses are being sidelined because hospitals can’t afford them as long as the most profitable parts of their operations no longer exist during the pandemic. UCSD Health Center has lost more than $50 million in revenue since March and Palomar Health has seen revenue losses of up to $800,000 per day.
  • Carlsbad City Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel wrote an explosive op-ed for Voice of San Diego about how some of her colleagues urged her to keep quiet about abuse she experienced, and knowingly worked with one of her stalkers. Bhat-Patel said she needed to call attention to the issue of abuse and domestic violence during the pandemic because of increased risks at home, where people may feel unable and unsafe to report their abuse. San Diego County’s hotlines have received a significant decline in domestic violence calls since the beginning of the pandemic, Srikrishnan reported. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is (800) 799-7233.

In Other News

Palomar Medical Center unveiled a medical station it plans to use in the event of a surge of COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
  • County officials unveiled an alternate care facility at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. The county opened two floors of hospital beds continuing its preparations for a potential surge of patients requiring hospitalization. (County News Center)
  • Shortly after the Del Mar Fair Board canceled this year’s San Diego County Fair, the board’s director David Watson resigned from the 22nd District Agricultural Association. Watson said he supports the board’s decision to cancel the fair due to coronavirus, but said the board displayed a lack of leadership during “treacherous times.” And Encinitas’s city manager Karen Brust resigned on April 15.  (Union-Tribune, The Coast News)
  • The safari park in Escondido is seeing more mountain lions in the area as human activity decreases in the park due to coronavirus-related closures. Steve Metzler, a mammal curator at the park, told 10News the mountain lions likely killed several gazelles they recently found dead.
  • And finally, you may not have to skip your Instagram-worthy photos at the flower fields in Carlsbad this year. Over the past two weeks, the farm’s founder and general manager have been filming live virtual guided tours of the fields on Instagram. (If you do take a virtual selfie in front of the fields, please send it my way!) (Union-Tribune)

Kayla Jimenez

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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