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‘Operational crisis’ forced EUSD to suspend in-school instruction; board hears Epiphany Prep renewal request

The word “crisis” is rather common these days. And Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra, superintendent of the Escondido Union School District (EUSD), employed it to bolster the district’s recent move from in-class instruction to distance learning at all of its schools (Times-Advocate, December 10).

At the school board’s regular meeting on Thursday, December 11, he described “an operational crisis late (the previous) Friday, into Saturday, then into the wee hours of Sunday,” the result of an abrupt increase in COVID-19 infections locally. The district then released a statement on Tuesday, December 8, announcing “temporary suspension” of in-class education, and the pivot to distance learning for all of its schools up until January 11.

Whether or not so intended, Rankins-Ibarra was offering a response to written comments to the board by a couple parents who criticized timing of the announcement — in particular, not giving them enough opportunity to make alternative arrangements for their children. 

But Rankins-Ibarra said that the increase in community infections had resulted in not being able to provide the necessary staff to assure either educational quality or school safety. He also referred to a group of parents who had wanted to maintain in-class instruction, terming this a “backlash” by unhappy parents objecting to the decision.

However, a large majority of the 20 comments read at the meeting, praised the decision and the rationale for maintaining safety. (Note:  on the same day as the EUSD board meeting, the Oceanside Unified School District also announced a move to distance learning at its schools.) 

Aside from comments on that decision, one written comment criticized the board for recently approving purchase of air filtration systems for the classrooms — for $3 million to $3.4 million — terming as “snake oil” the claims of 97.7% removal of particles from the air and the length between replacement of filters (Times-Advocate, November 19). 

An administrative staff member made a presentation billed as charting how the district will return to in-class instruction. But she focused mostly on the suspension decision and how the infection had decimated staff. For instance, contacts with those testing positive had forced quarantine of several staff members, taking whole groups of them out of service.

She said the district is committed to a return to in-class instruction on January 12, “if not another surge” in infections.

She emphasized that the district and Rankins-Ibarra continue to receive guidance from the school’s Design Team. Rankin-Ibarra said that the team consisted of more than 300 people providing input concerning ways to move forward. 

The Design Team will next meet on January 20 and then monthly through June.  

Also on the agenda:  the Epiphany Prep Charter School (725 Escondido Blvd.) presented a video highlighting its request for board renewal of its five-year contract to operate. Featured in the video were students, parents and teachers describing the school’s individualized approach. 

Epiphany says its main focus is “preparing students marginalized by socio-economic, geographic and familial circumstances.” Fully 98% of its students are Hispanic/Latinx, 52% are “English learners.” 

According to David Rivera, president of Epiphany, many children often come to the school “two-to three levels below” where they should be “and needing a second chance.”

A total of 48 statements were read to board members commenting on the request. Fully 46 of them supporting the renewal and praising the school for providing excellent support to students and parents, both educationally and socially. One of the statements, for instance, referred to the school’s “strong counseling program, small group instruction and support if any child is going through something.”

Rivera said that changes in the rules by the California Department of Education this past June created a standard that was unauthorized and uses just one measure, in contradiction “to the state legislative intent to use multiple measures.” He said the new standard specifically “fails to take academic growth into account” thus discriminating against Epiphany and the particular needs of its student population. 

Rivera also noted the cancellation of 2019 state testing, thus not affording the school another way to demonstrate its academic growth. 

In late 2017, the California Charter Schools Association (San Diego) said that Epiphany Prep was one of five schools in the state that was “underperforming” and so could not support its five-year renewal.

At the time, Rivera said the association’s conclusion failed to take into account “the big picture of what the school does and the types of students it serves.”

The EUSD board will meet in a special session on January 28 to consider Epiphany’s renewal request.

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