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Roundtable: The Uncertain Summer For San Diego Schools

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The San Diego Unified School District provides computers to students for distance learning during a distribution event in Clairemont on April 21, 2020.

BENNETT LACY

Local schools prepare for a mix of in-person and distance learning for the upcoming academic year, the San Diego Padres navigate COVID-19 as Major League Baseball tries to salvage a season, and a look inside the police culture behind 'The Thin Blue Line.'

Speaker 1: 00:01 Schools are already struggling during COVID-19. Now president Trump is demanding. They fully reopened or lose even more money. Had pro sports pull off a pandemic comeback how the Padres and major league baseball are trying to get back in the game. And the thin blue line symbol of law enforcement unity becomes a cultural flashpoint as Americans call for police reform. I'm Mark Sauer and the KPBS round starts. Now

Speaker 2: 00:33 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:36 Welcome to our discussion to the week. Stop stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me on our remote KPBS round table. Today are KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Annie Heilbrunn, multimedia sports reporter for the San Diego union Tribune and David Hernandez, public safety reporter for the union Tribune. School's out for the summer, but it's anything but a relaxing time off for our educators, students and parents schools expect to return in late August and president Trump is demanding. They do so in person, but that raises serious issues about public safety and our economic recovery. We're going to dive into a busy week with KPBS education reporter Joe Hong. Well, let's start with a broad look at the push to reopen schools for the fall. Where do things stand right now for our local school districts? And I know this is all fluid. Yeah. Uh, no, that's a great point.

Speaker 1: 01:26 You know, we could talk about this today and things could change tomorrow. So I just want folks to keep that in mind, but right now school districts across San Diego County are really hustling to sort of reopen as much as they can with that in mind. There, they have contingency plans to move back to distance learning if there is a spike in cases during the school year, but the priority is to reopen fully and San Diego unified. Of course, that's our largest district. It says it would offer in person online, a mix of both for the upcoming school year. Uh, that seems like a lot to ask of teachers. Are they on board with this? And what's the survey of parents showing. Yeah. So I think teachers are on board with what, what the district has in place. Currently. I think the key word for that district is choice.

Speaker 1: 02:14 So it comes down to what parents and families are feeling comfortable with. Uh, students who have older relatives at home would be able to continue distance learning in the fall and teachers, you know, they want to, they, they want to make sure students in their families feel safe. So everyone's sort of on the same page as far as that district goes. And, uh, that survey, I think it went out earlier or maybe there'll be another survey coming up, but, uh, parents, uh, they're a kind of back and forth on exactly what they want to do or a hybrid of, of their choices. Right, right. Yeah. I think for the most part, parents want schools to reopen if they can, but there, there was last time I spoke with district officials, there was a small percentage who, again, didn't safe sending

Speaker 3: 03:00 Their kids to school, whether it be because they live with grandparents or because, uh, the students themselves have health underlying health issues. So,

Speaker 1: 03:08 And then the South Bay Sweetwater, it's a district with a history of problems in recent years. And they recently announced job cuts partly due to the COVID-19 fallout. What's the latest going on in South banned and water.

Speaker 3: 03:20 Yeah. So a few weeks ago, Sweetwater, they finalize layoffs that were initially approved in February, uh, that included more than 200 teachers and staff and that saved them about $20 million. But they're going to, they're going to need to close about 10 million more in the budget deficit. And on top of that, a state audit found that the district had mismanaged its funds and the audit also found evidence of fiscal financial fraud in the district from a few years ago when they approved raises for teachers based on insufficient information. And a couple of weeks ago, based on that audit, the superintendent has temporarily resigned or has been put on administrative leave.

Speaker 1: 04:05 Oh, a real mess down there. Uh, is it possible, is that an option that the state could actually come in and take over a district that's in crisis like that?

Speaker 3: 04:12 Yeah, that, that does happen. It's too early to tell at this point what's going to happen at Sweetwater that audit I mentioned has been forwarded to a local agencies like the district attorney's office in San Diego who investigate further and sort of see what the next steps need to be for that district. But yeah, it's, it's fair to say that even, even without the pandemic, that district has some challenges at home.

Speaker 1: 04:36 Now, president Trump is adding a political angle. He wants all schools to fully reopen in person classes against his own CDCs guidelines, which I guess could also be fluid at this point. Uh, perhaps it's, this is giving an appearance of normalcy heading into the fall election. What's the president calling.

Speaker 3: 04:55 Yeah. So, uh, the president and sort of the, the us department of education, secretary, Betsy DeVos, they both sort of want schools to reopen as soon as possible. And a big part of that, you know, is, is the economy reopening schools is sort of the foundation to restarting the national economy, Trump and DeVos sort of threatened to withhold federal funding if schools don't.

Speaker 1: 05:20 And of course the economy and the, the virus, as we've seen over these many months, or are both tied together here, how much power does Trump really have when it comes to withholding money for education? Would Congress need to get involved in this?

Speaker 3: 05:32 Yeah. So the department of education, which is run by Betsy Devoss can withhold federal funding. You know, uh, if, if that's sort of what Trump and DeVos sort of decided to do, but, you know, keep in mind that federal funding only makes up about 10% of, of school funding in California. It wouldn't be a, it wouldn't be a huge, uh, cut, but still significant I'd say, and it's not just K

Speaker 1: 05:58 Through 12 feeling the pressure from the Trump administration this week. Ice announced the international students who don't take in person classes might be forced to head back to their home countries. How are local universities like UCS D and SDSU responded?

Speaker 3: 06:12 First of all, they were surprised. It sort of came out of nowhere on Monday when they died ins from immigration and customs enforcement came out. I spoke with the director of the international student center at UC San Diego. And she did not, she was concerned, but she wasn't panicked. And it seemed like the university would be able to work with international students to make sure they are enrolled in at least one in person class. They're looking at their own course offerings to see what they can expand. And, um, yeah, they really advise that students don't make any sudden changes to their academic schedules or any sudden changes to their, um, they, they want to make sure students aren't trying to leave the country right now.

Speaker 1: 06:53 And some universities have gotten involved in lawsuits over this is the local universities involved in any lawsuits.

Speaker 3: 07:00 Yeah. So the UC system, uh, filed a lawsuit against, uh, the federal government arguing that, uh, ice did not follow proper procedures before, um, creating this policy.

Speaker 1: 07:13 And, uh, as you say, local universities, they've got a mix of online and in person instruction plan, right?

Speaker 3: 07:20 That's right. Yeah. UC San Diego, about 70% of their classes will be online in the fall. Um, and San Diego state university is offering about 200 of its courses, uh, in person. So that's a lot of like, uh, classes for nursing or in the sciences, any of the lab classes. Those are the ones that sort of need to be held in the building.

Speaker 1: 07:43 She has a difficult job under the best circumstances. What kind of toll is the COVID-19 experience taking on our teachers? What are you hearing from them on a personal level

Speaker 3: 07:52 It's worn. It's important to keep in mind that a lot of these teachers are parents themselves and the teachers I've spoken with, um, they've really struggled balancing their parenting and making sure they're their own kids are, are learning while also trying to teach over zoom. And, um, just the logistics of teaching online has been challenging. A lot of students are not connecting a lot of students aren't participating and doing assignments. So, um, that is something that teachers are w are hoping that, uh, districts will work out by the time we launch in the fall.

Speaker 1: 08:30 And are there any stories and issues we should be keeping an eye on as the weeks go on toward the fall? What still needs to be figured out between now and the start of the school year?

Speaker 3: 08:39 I'm curious to know what the specific sort of plans are for reopening. What's the classroom going to look like what's the school day gonna look like? And apart from that, I think the big story is going to be federal funding is more federal money going to come in because right now, San Diego has enough state

Speaker 1: 08:56 Funding to do a full reopening safely until January, but without federal funding, they're going to need to go back to distance learning halfway through the school year in January. So something has to happen on that front. That's right. I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong. Thanks very much, Joe. Thank you, Mark. For those of us who watch on TV or in the stands, baseball is a game, but for players and team owners, it's a multibillion dollar enterprise bleeding money every day. It shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent days, the San Diego Padres and 29 other major league teams got back to work. They're calling it a summer camp ahead of a hopeful 60 day sprint season set to begin later this month, but already we're seeing players opt out, get sick and wonder if this should even be happening. Our guest is Andy. Heilbrunn a sports multimedia journalist for the San Diego union Tribune. Annie, thanks for joining us.

Speaker 4: 09:51 Thank you so much for having me Mark. It's great to be here.

Speaker 1: 09:54 Well, let's start with the news this week. One of the Padres outfielder, Tommy fam recovering from COVID-19 what's his status.

Speaker 4: 10:01 Yeah. He continues to recover. He's got a number of touch points about six steps that he needs to hit before he can rejoin the team. And one of those is having two negative tests within two separate 24 hour period. So he hasn't done that yet. They're still allowing him to recover, but he is asymptomatic and working out at home. He's been posting some videos to his social media accounts of him working out.

Speaker 1: 10:25 And what are some of the safety protocols? The Padres and other baseball teams are implementing.

Speaker 4: 10:30 They're getting tested every other day for COVID-19. Those tests are being sent to a private lab in Utah, where they're being turned around within 24 hours. As long as there's no delays, they're getting their temperature checked every day. Some of them are choosing to wear masks on the field, but they all are required to wear masks inside the clubhouse and inside the facilities. They're also supposed to be standing six feet apart at all times, even on the baseball field. So they're trying to put these into play before games start to get used to them a little bit, but of course, what they do outside of the ballpark is really up to the players. How much of a precaution they take

Speaker 1: 11:06 No high fives and spitting and SunPower seeds and all the rest.

Speaker 4: 11:10 You got it. No high fives, no spitting, no sunflower seeds. They're not supposed to really chew anything. They can't fit any gum out, anything like that. And even in a dugout, they can't be sitting next to one another. They can't lean over the rail and watch the game. They have to be sitting in the stands, four seats away and four seats apart. So there's going to be a number of things that they're actually practicing now to get used to, because they've never had to do this before, where they can't just be around one another. It's it's going to be really interesting when a team has a walk-off win or something like that. And they can't rush each other and celebrate in a huddle like they normally do

Speaker 1: 11:47 And celebration. Uh, so the powders are preparing for the season of Petco park and the university of San Diego. But as you're noting there, they're creatures of habit and routine what's changed for them as they try to salvage the season.

Speaker 4: 11:59 Yeah, you nailed it, Mark. I mean, these guys crave routine. They love routine. And for a lot of them is even the veterans. You know, they've been in the same routines for the most part for, you know, 10, 15 years already now. So this is a total wild card. Some of them are working out at USD. They had to split the fields because they're not all allowed to be on the same field because of social distancing. So, um, you know, there's a lot of differences. They've got to change up, you know, how often they come in. So they get the clubhouse happened, they get temperature, check, things like that. So the routines are really very different and even things like having, you know, not being able to lick their hand, if you're a pitcher, you have to have your own rosin bag, things like that. But they're really having to get used to right now. But the routine thing is really something that's mentally going to be something that they have to practice.

Speaker 1: 12:45 And just 60 games, no fans in the stadiums. I mean, this is really going to be a different kind of

Speaker 4: 12:51 Yeah. Not having fans in the stadium is really going to make a difference because these players, especially in baseball, they thrive on the fans. They get energy off the fans. And so not having fans in stands is going to really, we're really gonna see the effects of that. And once games start now, they're practicing right now with, um, experimenting with crowd noise, typing in crowd noise and putting things in the seats like stuffed animals or whatnot, uh, and playing music, but nothing is going to simulate having fans in stands. And that's really going to be something that's going to take a while to get used to

Speaker 1: 13:23 What happens if, for example, the Dodgers are in town for a series, a few players on either team test positive after the first game, two weeks a quarantine, those teams shut down.

Speaker 4: 13:34 Yeah, Mark. This is really the big question because MLB hasn't really set forth a plan as to what the landmarks are to shut everything down. So it's really up to the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, to decide when the integrity of the game is being compromised. That's how they are stating it. Whether they have a number that they're not putting out in public is, is not known, but it really is unclear right now. What it's going to take, whether it's two players, five players, these guys will be traveling. There'll be on the road. What happens if someone gets sick on the road, will he be allowed to fly back or will he have to stay there? There's so many unknowns as far as what they're going to do when someone tests positive, as far as game start. And as far as teams playing against one another, it's a great question. You know, someone gets sick and gets COVID-19 and they've just played another team. Well, according to MLB regulations, anyone who's come in contact with a guy who test positive. It has to be out for at least 24 hours until they show a negative test. So that could mean entire games are canceled, but we really just don't know at this point.

Speaker 1: 14:43 And you not only cover the potteries for the union Tribune, you're a regular presence during TV coverage on Fox sports, San Diego, what's changed about the way members of the media can physically access and cover the baseball team now.

Speaker 4: 14:55 Yeah, this is really different. So normally as members of the media, we go into the clubhouse before and after every game. And we have about an hour in there to talk to players face to face. And that's really where we get our stories and our tidbits and things that are not known to fans that we get to report. And right now we're not allowed to be anywhere near players or coaches. They are considered tier one. We are tier three and the two will never meet. So, um, everything is being done over zoom calls. And that definitely is just not the same as far as being able to walk up to a player and start talking to a player. So we're having group zoom calls as it is, but there will be no one on one interactions this year between the media and between players and coaches.

Speaker 1: 15:36 Wow. That is something really different boy. It seems like a million years ago, but the Washington nationals in October won the world series and they're, they're closer. Sean Doolittle describes sports as a reward for a functioning society. Alluded to the fact we might not be there, here yet in this odd season that they're embarking on. What's your sense of the player's comfort level during this time?

Speaker 4: 16:00 Uh, I think that the players are split. Sean do little, has made some really great points. Um, we've heard Bryce Harper say that he's going to play, but he doesn't feel comfortable around it. Like you can really see that some players are deciding to play for now, but they're a little tormented by it. And of course, players are in different positions. Uh, players made a lot of money and he's able to say, you know what, I'm not playing this season. It's a lot different maybe from a guy who is a first or second year player who doesn't feel like he can take off the whole season financially, but I'm certainly there, it's split. There's people who, you know, think that, that this should go on as normal and they're excited, but it's hard to get all the way excited for baseball. When we see what's going on in the world with rising tests and rising positive cases and still a lot of, um, a lot of hotspots in the country with the chronic,

Speaker 1: 16:49 Well, of course baseball is the national pastime. We rely so much on sports that distraction, especially in these depressing times, as you note, what are you hearing from fans? How are they feeling about the return of baseball?

Speaker 4: 17:01 Yeah, I think they're split as well. I think that people are having a hard time fully jumping on board. And I think there's a lot of people who think the season might not even start, like it's not even going to get there because it's going to shut down before they even reach opening day, which is really just a few weeks away. And certainly a lot of fans who don't think it's going to finish or make it to the world series. But at the same time, I will say, when you get inside the ballpark and you're sitting there and you're watching practice for a moment, everything feels normal. You know, you do feel like, uh, it's just guys messing around on the baseball field, having fun, playing the game that they love. And then you see the maps. And then you think about the cases and everything kind of rushes back at you. So it is a little bit of a conflicting feeling, I think for everyone as they try to follow this and that's, what's going to make this season interesting.

Speaker 1: 17:50 Keep the shots tight on the pitchers and the batter and the catcher, the fielders tilt back up to look at the fans in the stands, because they're not there

Speaker 5: 17:59 To your point. I mean, that's the thing, you know, it's kind of like, you're trying to find normalcy in a very abnormal world right now. And as much as you want to pretend, it's there. It's not quite there.

Speaker 1: 18:08 I've been speaking with Annie Heilbrunn, sport's multimedia journalist for the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks a lot, Annie.

Speaker 5: 18:14 Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 18:17 Since we spoke with Annie earlier this week, another Padre player, Jorge Matteo has also tested positive for the Corona virus. There are four words that are getting added scrutiny amid the national upheaval or police use of force. The thin blue line local law enforcement say it's a term that symbolizes the unique comradery among those sworn to protect our communities. But some say it encourages a culture of secrecy and elitist among those who wear a badge reporter. David Hernandez examined this aspect of police culture for the San Diego union Tribune. David, thanks for joining us. Thank you. Thanks for having me. Well, why did you decide to pursue this story in the first place?

Speaker 5: 18:56 Yeah, that's a great question. I have to give credit where credit is due. Um, I wrote a story about, um, a group that was pushing or the San Diego County Sheriff's department to remove any display of a thin blue line flags from vehicles uniforms. And after that story, uh, an editor thought it was a really good idea to take a look at the history. Um, so we were kind of curious if people really knew the idea behind the thin blue line where it originated, how it's evolved, um, and where its acceptance stands today.

Speaker 1: 19:30 And was there a common theme or consensus from law enforcement that you talked with about what the thin blue line means to them?

Speaker 5: 19:39 Yeah, the overwhelming majority of police officers and officials I spoke with, um, repeatedly mentioned the word solidarity. They view it as a show of solidarity and also as a show pride for a profession that I think a lot of us can agree is dangerous and puts officers' lives on the line. The criticism gets at the idea behind the thin blue line. And that idea is that, uh, police are the force that safeguards society against chaos and disorder, uh, that they're there to protect and serve and be that force. Um, and so critics say that that fails to recognize the community's role in public safety. Some also associated with, uh, the blue wall of silence, which is a code among law enforcement officers to not report misconduct. So, uh, that association leads to some mistrust within the community.

Speaker 1: 20:33 And in your story, you tell us about a newly formed group, the Imperial beach people's alliances. It wants the Sheriff's department to distance itself from this imagery. Why is that? What are they demanding? Yes.

Speaker 5: 20:44 So they have a series of demands that they've put forward. One of the demands is for the Sheriff's department to remove any display of the thin blue line flag from vehicles uniforms. And so the Sheriff's department doesn't currently display the five on vehicles and doesn't allow any insignia with a thin blue line. But as I've mentioned, there are some officers across the County that have been seen wearing thin blue line flags on base coverings. So the group is really aiming for the department to just ban across the board, any display of the thin blue line flag. And one of the leaders, as I've mentioned pointed to, uh, the blue wall of silence. So he essentially views the thin blue line as a wall that, that leads to mistrust within the community.

Speaker 1: 21:32 Police practices are a major component of the black lives matter movement. And San Diego seen its own share of protests. Did you get a sense from the local police you spoke with that they're moved in a, any way by this national conversation?

Speaker 5: 21:46 Yeah, definitely. What I'm hearing from them is that they're listening. Uh, we also have seen some actions from both within the police department, but also elected leaders. So we've seen a banning of the use of, uh, the parotid restraint, which has been controversial for many years now. We've also seen calls for a new commission to investigate, uh, instances of police misconduct and police shootings. And, uh, one thing that I also find very interesting is that we've seen during recent police shootings, uh, be quick release of, uh, body worn camera and other video from those instances. And that's, uh, within the San Diego police department in those two cases. So we are seeing some changes, um, but certain city leaders and definitely, uh, a large group of activists, um, insists that there should be the start of many more changes to come.

Speaker 1: 22:42 Now we've had a couple of incidents of San Diego police using deadly force in recent weeks. There was the innovator Obera shooting on June 27th and he died also just last Sunday, police shot a man already in custody, outside headquarters, downtown, after he'd slipped out of some handcuffs, how has the department dealt with the officers involved in those two cases?

Speaker 5: 23:03 The protocol typically is to put the officers on paid administrative leave while the police department investigates the shootings. So that's what we've seen with those two cases that you've referenced. Um, the investigation essentially will run for months as they review video interview witnesses. And, um, one thing that I've found to be really interesting in the two cases that you referenced is that police have, um, released video pretty quickly, at least in the first case so far, um, the video was released within 24 hours and that was, um, after several protesters took to the streets to demand more transparency in that shooting. And with the second shooting that you referenced, um, police said that they plan to release video by the end of the week, um, that shooting happened Sunday. So that would be within a week. And that quick release isn't typical, um, of the San Diego police department or really any agency. So as I referenced earlier, it appears to be that they are listening to these demands and pushes for transparency and accountability.

Speaker 1: 24:06 Now the San Diego city council wants voters to weigh in on this. They placed a new police accountability measure on the November ballot. How would this change community oversight of the San Diego police depart?

Speaker 5: 24:17 So that measure would dissolve a current board that exists. And a lot of critics say that that board doesn't really have teeth because it doesn't allow the bore, the rules don't allow the board to conduct their own investigations. They essentially review, uh, internal investigations to see if they agree with the findings. So this measure would create a whole new board. It would be more independent. It would, uh, be able to subpoena witnesses and choose what investigations to launch, not just those that are coming from the police department. Um, they would also be able to recommend discipline, although at the end of the day, that would be left up to the, uh, chief of police. And, um, essentially a lot of people are very happy about this move. They think it's a move that would boost transparency and accountability and put more power into the hands of the community.

Speaker 1: 25:15 Well, we'll see what voters do come November with, with that issue. I've been speaking with David Hernandez, crime and public safety reporter for the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks for joining us, David, thanks for having me that wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Joe Hong of KPBS news, Annie Heilbrunn multimedia sports reporter for the San Diego union Tribune and David Hernandez, public safety reporter for the union Tribune. If you ever miss our show, you can download the KPBS round table podcast on your favorite podcast app. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for being with us today and join us again next week on the round table.

Speaker 5: 26:01 [inaudible].

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Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.