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Last week, I used this space to lay out why we pivoted from doing our usual Voice of the Year list – it simply didn’t feel appropriate in these circumstances, and we don’t believe it’s the best way to serve readers in this moment.

Virtually everyone has forced to make similar switch-ups in response to the pandemic, whether it’s in how they run their household or their business.

Everyone, that is, except San Diego Unified. The district, despite making the massively disruptive shift to online learning – and all the difficulties it entails for everyone involved – has for some reason decided to maintain its “Everything is awesome!!!!!!!!” approach to public messaging.

For so many people, this has been the most difficult year of their lives – and distance learning has been a big part of why.

“My daughter is part of ‘Generation Covid,’ or Gen C,” journalist David Perry wrote in the Washington Post this week. “It’s a generation that will not only be marked by the trauma of the disruption and death, but also by witnessing the total failures of adults to protect them and their world.”

VOSD’s Will Huntsberry this week highlighted research showing just how devastating the anxiety and stress of the pandemic can be on children’s developing brains.

At the last two school board meetings, public comments like these have been the norm:

“The District has completely failed our earliest learners in the PreK setting for the past 10 months, and now they have a weak educational foundation that will ABSOLUTELY impact them for a lifetime.”

“We are grandparents of a 4th grade student at Bay Park Elementary. His parents are both full-time employees so we have been pressed into service assisting our grandson in navigating and using your system that is totally unacceptable for a child who has a learning disability … His assigned, distance-learning computer has failed again which is an ongoing issue. This will require his parents (again) to take time off work to acquire another device!”

“The kids need and deserve better. Talking on the phone while on mute does not count as teaching!”

Yet just this week, school board trustee Richard Barrera cast doubt on whether students’ learning is really being impacted in a serious way.

Barrera “disputed the notion that many students will necessarily be far off grade level at the end of the school year. It still remains to be seen, he said,” Huntsberry reported.

Last month, Superintendent Cindy Marten continued her long tradition of delivering a candy-coated view of how the district is doing in her annual State of the District address. “The state of our district … is unstoppable!” she declared, although in-person learning has quite literally stopped.

That type of rhetoric sure hits different in a pandemic.

“My concern is there is a disconnect between the experience of families in the home and this rainbows and unicorns vision put out by the central office. You want to keep morale up and you don’t want to be doom and gloom, but when there is this huge disconnect between this, it is really hard. [Saying] ‘We are doing great’ makes it harder,” district parent Moira Allbritton told VOSD last month.

She’s not the only one who thinks the rosy public messaging has been having the opposite of its intended impact.

One parent, citing the “tone deaf” state of the district speech, wrote in public comments at a board meeting this month: “Clearly there are problems within this district and no one is having the tough discussions necessary to improve anything.”

What VOSD Learned This Week

The big questions and ideas we explored in our Rethinking San Diego series this week: Should we just redo the school year? What would the border look like if it actually met locals’ needs? What are the benefits and drawbacks of taking our power system completely public? And what’s really possible in the police defunding push?

We delved into these ideas on the podcast this week.

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The doctor at the center of the vaccine exemption scandal that led to statewide reform is now accused of massively overprescribing opioids.

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Doctors and city officials have long assumed a massive coronavirus outbreak at the Convention Center was inevitable – and they were right. Mayor Todd Gloria announced, meanwhile, that he wants to keep the Convention Center open as a shelter possibly through March 2021.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“The photographer who got sick after shooting the COVID-positive groom said her experiences throughout the pandemic have left her a little depressed. She recalled one conversation from that wedding, before she left the reception. ‘I have children,’ she told a bridesmaid, ‘What if my children die?’ The bridesmaid responded, ‘I understand, but this is her wedding day.’” – Nothing says happily ever after like insisting on passing on a deadly virus.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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