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San Diego Public Schools Reopen

 April 16, 2021 at 9:58 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:01 Finally some FaceTime for San Diego's kids and not through a computer screen. We check in on the first week, back in class for our largest school district, a new push for police reform at the state and local level mayor. Gloria makes it part of his larger fight against systemic racism. And the story that led to two local reporters ending up on wanted flyers at a COVID-19 shelter. I'm Claire triglyceride and the KPBS round table starts now. Speaker 2: 00:39 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 00:43 Hello. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Claire Tresor joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table are Joe Hong education reporter for KPBS news voices, San Diego, managing editor, Sarah Libby, and Cody Delaney, investigative reporter for I new source. We're certainly not back to normal, but we're closer than we've been in a long time. That's how you can describe the week for the San Diego unified school district. Welcome banners and balloons decorated campuses, Monday welcoming kids for the first time in more than a year. Other local districts have already been partially open or are opening now, but for this segment, we want to focus on our largest district that serves so many families. And to do that, we turn to KPBS education reporter Joe Hong. Hello, Joe. Hey Clara. Thanks for having me. Sure. So let's just get the scope of this operation to start. How many students are in the district and how many campuses are we talking about? Speaker 3: 01:47 Yeah, so San Diego unified, it's the state's second largest district. It has about a hundred thousand students enrolled, maybe a little less and has about close to 200 schools. Speaker 1: 02:01 Okay. And so then as of this week, how much on-campus instruction is happening and who's returning to classrooms first, Speaker 3: 02:10 Right? So district officials have told me that about half of the district has gone back for in-person learning depending on whether it's an elementary school student or a middle or high school student, students are back on campus for between three to up to five hours per day, between two days a week and four days a week, depending on the school and how many students wanted to go back. The schools that have had more interest in in-person learning from students have had to scale down to two days a week. So they could split the returning students into two groups and abide by physical distancing rules. Speaker 1: 02:49 Right? So certainly not back to full school by any stretch you visited a local high school on Monday, and one of the students told you it was a little weird. So overall, what was the mood on campus for students and also for teachers and staff? Speaker 3: 03:06 That's, that's a great point. I mean, we're still very far from normal and I, I would agree with that student. It was a little weird. Um, I was at Canyon Hills high school, formerly Sarah Hills or Sarah high school, excuse me, and Tierra Santa. And I, you know, the first day of school is usually very exciting. Uh, students are talking to each other and, and, you know, just excited to be back. But the scene I saw was a little more, I think cautious is the right word. Students were spaced out in front of the campus. Uh, there were some sort of chitchat, but overall a pretty, pretty quiet and pretty calm. Speaker 1: 03:44 And I'd heard that many teachers are also simultaneously teaching students at home through zoom while also trying to pay attention to their kids in the classroom. So how is that working? Speaker 3: 03:56 Right. And, you know, that's sort of the, uh, the, the pros and cons of this operation, right. Where a lot of students get to go back and they get that in-person, uh, sort of attention, but teachers are in some ways doing double duty right now, uh, working with that other half of students who, whose families prefer to, to continue distance learning. Yeah. It just continues to be a hustle for, for teachers who need to serve both of these students groups, student groups right now. Yeah. Uh, prepare both of those lessons. Speaker 1: 04:28 Yeah. I can't imagine, uh, how challenging that would be to kind of split your time and attention that way. Um, is the district giving any information on how many teachers and staff have received COVID vaccines and is that a requirement to be back in the classroom? Speaker 3: 04:46 I actually don't have the official numbers or the latest numbers yet, but part of the agreement with the teacher's union for this, uh, this partial reopening was that teachers returning to campus would need to be vetted. Speaker 1: 05:00 Is there interest among high school students in getting vaccinated? Those that are old enough? Speaker 3: 05:05 Yes. I, uh, the, the students I've spoken with in particular, they are very enthusiastic about, about what the vaccine means for them. You know, being able to go back to normal, um, and feel a little safer at school, especially because this older group, this older sort of age bracket among teenagers, that's sort of where the risk is when it comes to reopening schools. Research has shown that at the elementary school level, um, younger kids are far less likely to, um, get and spread the virus. So, you know, once we vaccinate these older high school students, that that's just another, another step in, um, towards normalcy, Speaker 1: 05:47 Right. And those kids are, you know, maybe more likely to be able to drive or go out and do things that they probably have further push to be able to get out. And that Speaker 3: 05:58 Right. And, you know, if you think about just all the social events that are associated with, you know, late high school and just how social will be students are, can be, um, compared to their sort of, uh, younger counterparts. Speaker 1: 06:11 Right. And then, should we expect any further reopening during this school year, or is the district just using the remaining months to ease back into it with a full reopening in the fall? Speaker 3: 06:23 I think it's unlikely that we'll see a more robust reopening the school year, just because of how long it took to reach this agreement, um, with the teacher's union, uh, for this, this current sort of hybrid model. But the attention seems now to be on, um, both summer school and a full reopening in the fall, like you said, Speaker 1: 06:43 And before we get to the fall, there's summer and summer might be a busy time for San Diego unified. I know you've done a lot of reporting on learning loss over the past year. So will there be a larger demand for summer school, do you think to make up for the lost time in the classroom this past year? Speaker 3: 07:02 I believe so. And San Diego unified, the district is aware of this and they are offering a much more robust summer school program. I know the conversation really has revolved around learning loss and getting students caught up academically. But, you know, if you talk to experts and educators right now, the, they really emphasize the need for sort of meeting like mental health and emotional needs of students right now, you know, they've been out of campus or off campus for, you know, more than a year now. And their teachers are afraid that students will come back with all sorts of behaviors and, you know, maybe even traumas and from, from what district officials have told me so far, this summer school program will really focus on just getting students to love, learning, again, getting them to love being in the classroom again, with a focus on arts, uh, both performing and visual arts and sort of physical activity. So it won't be this strictly sort of, um, getting students back on track academically, sorta like boot camp situation at all, Speaker 1: 08:15 Sort of just, you know, helping them to get back into the swing of the normal routine and being back in school and things like that. I've been speaking with Joe Hong, the education reporter for KPBS. And thank you, Joe, for all your work, following these stories. Thank you Claire. Yet again, America is going through the pain of seeing an African-American man killed by law enforcement. Dante Wright was shot. And what a police department in Minnesota calls an accident. It says the officer grabbed a gun instead of a taser during a traffic stop. This is all happening, just a few miles from the ongoing trial of Derek. Shovan the police officer with murdering George Floyd in a case that set off a national protest movement, California and San Diego are considering their own police reforms and voices, San Diego, managing editor. Sarah Libby has been following those proposals. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. So politically we're in a different place from even one year ago at the city and County levels with now a democratic majority on the board of supervisors and a Democrat as mayor. So do you think that means substantial reform is likely Speaker 4: 09:31 That having a mayor who's proactively exploring some of these reforms is a big difference. The previous mayor, Kevin Faulkner really sort of let the department drive a lot of this decision-making itself and kind of relied on the department to police itself. But I think it, when it comes to police reform, more generally, it's important to remember that it's never a done deal just because there are Democrats in charge, the state legislature is overwhelmingly democratic and it has struggled for years to pass even some pretty modest reforms. Speaker 1: 10:05 Yeah, it seems like there would be need to be more maybe even in terms of changing leadership in the police department or, or things like that. KPBS had mayor Todd Gloria on midday edition this week to talk about his black empowerment plan, which is a package of reforms aimed at helping San Diego's black community. And that includes some, uh, policing proposals. And here's some of what he had to say. And then maybe you can tell me your, Speaker 5: 10:33 I want San Diego to be a national leader when it comes to public safety. Uh, I want, uh, the community to feel safe. And I want us to have the best police department, uh, in the United States. Uh, this plan is intended to try and get closer to those objectives. Speaker 4: 10:46 So it sounds to me like Gloria is saying he wants the community to be happy with the job that police are doing. And he also wants police to be happy on the job. And that's actually a pretty tall order because the things that get proposed to further, one of those objectives can sometimes upset the people who are pushing for the other objective. And so it's a pretty delicate balance that you have to strike. Speaker 1: 11:09 Yeah. I mean, he was elected with the support of the police department. So it seems like he's going to need to try and navigate this, this tricky balance. As you say, can you run down a few of the changes he's proposed in terms of policing? Speaker 4: 11:25 Big one is that he says he wants to explore policies that limit pretextual stops. These are stops where an officer pulls somebody over for a minor traffic violation. Maybe you didn't signal when you were changing a lane. And then they use that stop to investigate whether the driver is guilty of something more serious, um, maybe by searching their vehicle or searching their person and study after study, after study has shown that Diego police and the San Diego Sheriff's department pull over and search black drivers at rates far higher than their share of the population. So I think he's aiming to make a change there. He's also said he wants to explore whether certain types of police calls or certain types of offenses should be responded to by someone other than the police. And then there are a lot of pretty standard things on the list. Things like reviewing hiring practices and improving the different types of training that police go through. I just want to point out the, at this point, his plan doesn't really commit to doing any of these things that has a lot of language. Like they want to review the policies or explore whether to do something which you know, is a pretty big difference from committing to a very specific change. Speaker 1: 12:41 Yeah, that's what I was going to ask is whether you think anything that he's outlined here will actually do anything concrete in getting San Diego closer to, uh, equitable policing. Speaker 4: 12:54 Yeah, I think, again, it just depends on a lot of those details. I think if there was a way to truly end pretextual stops that that would go a long way toward changing who was stopped by the police and why, but I think there's value in just sort of publicly setting a tone, the way that Gloria is doing, as far as the caliber of officers you're looking for and the types of behavior that you'll tolerate. So just the fact that he's trying to be more present and involved in these discussions thing, I think means he's trying to set that tone in a way that maybe his predecessors haven't really done. Speaker 1: 13:31 And you mentioned hiring standards and those seem to be kind of all over the map in policing. You wrote about this for voice of San Diego, especially when it comes to education. So can you tell us about the proposed state law you described and where it stands? Speaker 4: 13:47 Yeah, so obviously when we hear about incidents of police violence and we talk about preventing them, we're really talking about the very back end of the process. When someone's already an officer they're already carrying a weapon and responding, responding to calls. So this bill kind of tries to address the problem from the other end and by bringing in recruits who are highly educated and a little bit older, um, and the thinking behind it is maybe those people are more mature, more in control of their impulses. The author of the bill assembly member, Reggie Jones, Sawyer has several studies, um, that he says shows you're less likely to use force as an officer if you're older and more educated. So the bill would require new officers to either be 25 years old or to have a four-year degree. Speaker 1: 14:39 And then you asked different agencies in San Diego County, what they require from a recruit and they gave you very different answers. Why do you think there's so much disparity in hiring standards? Yeah, Speaker 4: 14:52 I'm not sure whether their standards themselves are different, but certainly the results and the makeup of the different police forces across the County ended up being all over the place. I asked the different agencies, how many of their officers already have a four year degree? And some of them said as few as about 37% have degrees. And one said, um, that about 72% of their officers have degrees. So that's a pretty big difference in terms of how educated those two forces are. And then probably the most surprising thing was that a lot of agencies said they didn't even keep track of whether their deputies have degrees, including the Sheriff's department. Speaker 1: 15:36 Oh, that's interesting. I know there was a study done at the city level city of San Diego level recently that found women and minorities were more likely to be pushed out early in the police hiring process. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that means? Speaker 4: 15:52 Yeah, so they found that men were more than twice as likely to be deemed qualified, um, than women applicants during those really early stages, even though the same women were more likely to have a college degree. And it also found that white applicants were similarly more likely to be deemed qualified than people of color. And again, it was only looking at those very early stages. So it's possible that, um, you know, some of the testing that they go through later on in the process maybe would explain some of that, but it was certainly troubling. And the authors of the study said that it was troubling that people appeared to be pushed out at that very early stage Speaker 1: 16:36 Seems like another potential for a place that could be changed. But again, we'll have to see if anything concrete comes out of it. Absolutely. Well, I've been speaking with Sarah Libby, managing editor for voice of San Diego. And thank you, Sarah. Thanks for having me. It's part of the job of an investigative reporter. Many times the people you report on, won't be happy to see you, but that pushback reached a new level this week for I new source operators of a COVID-19 isolation hotel in mission Valley are reportedly circulating, be on the lookout flyers of two of the nonprofits reporters in one, the picture of the reporter shows him with a burrito in hand while some might see a bit of humor, the move raises questions about media freedom and accountability, especially during an ongoing health crisis. Cody Delaney is with us this week. He's one of the reporters on those flyers. Hello Cody. Speaker 4: 17:38 Hey, thanks for having me. Sure. Speaker 1: 17:41 So to start for those unfamiliar, with the story, uh, how did this hotel in mission Valley become part of the county's response? COVID-19 Speaker 6: 17:50 Yeah. When the pandemic began last year, County officials took over the crown Plaza and mission Valley and a few other hotels to temporarily house people who had nowhere else to isolate during the stay-at-home order. And there were two reasons for this to isolate people who test positive or come in contact with the virus and to protect people who are at risk for developing severe illness. And we learned that the crown Plaza in mission Valley was being used as the main isolation hotel. Speaker 1: 18:20 Okay. And so then what did the I new source investigation uncover? Speaker 6: 18:25 Yeah, my partner, Jill Castillano and I have uncovered a series of problems with this program since it started, uh, last year we reported a suicide death had occurred at the crown Plaza more than a month after County employees had raised alarms about the lack of mental health services. So County staff knew there were problems there. And two months later, officials signed a contract, a $30 million contract with a private company called Equis workforce solutions to provide services to people in the hotels. Um, but we kept digging. And this past month we reported that guests and employees there say the county's contractor is mismanaging the entire program. People don't get medication on time. Toddlers went days without adequate food and security guards, harass people staying there under a public health order. And on top of that staff members there told us that they aren't prepared or trained to work with. Most of those who are entering the program. And these are people who are with, without homes and might be struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders. And we also, uh, learned some more information about that suicide death from last year, that person wasn't discovered in the room for five days. Speaker 1: 19:40 And so then this week you found out the contractor running the site has responded by handing out these flyers. So how did you first find out that they were doing this? Speaker 6: 19:50 Yeah, we've been continuing to dig into this program and continuing to talk to as many people who are involved, both guests and employees. And in the course of that, someone sent this to me kind of like, Hey, did you, did you see this? Were you aware of this? Speaker 1: 20:05 And w what was your reaction when you saw that? Speaker 6: 20:08 I, you know, I mean, it's, it's pretty concerning my initial reaction, you know, especially because these, these flyers, you know, they refer to getting San Diego police involved for simply doing my job. And then I wondered, you know, why they had to use a photo of me eating a burrito. Speaker 1: 20:27 Well, yeah, I was going to say, I, I feel like you need to explain why the picture they used is of you eating a burrito. Speaker 6: 20:36 Yeah. Well, I love a good burrito, first of all. Um, but, uh, that, that photo appears to have been taken from my Twitter profile, which I use both and personally, and I just, I thought it was just a funny photo to use for my, my Twitter profile, but I just never thought I'd see that on, uh, beyond the lookout poster. Speaker 1: 20:57 Yeah, for sure. I, my Twitter profile picture is of my dog sitting on my neck. So I can imagine that would be kind of strange to see show up on a, on a flyer like that. Um, there's also a flyer for your colleague, Jill Castellano, who has more of a normal picture in her flyer, but w w what was her her reaction? Speaker 6: 21:19 Yeah, I shared it with her as soon as I got it. And like I said, we, we both shared the same initial concern. You know, this, it looks like an attempt to intimidate journalists and to, you know, not pursuing legitimate stories of public interests, but she said, you know, as you know, we started talking about this and we looked at these flyers a little bit more closely, and we realized that, you know, there's nothing to be afraid of. And we found them to be more amusing than anything. And, you know, we both agree that this isn't going to stop us from pursuing, pursuing these stories. Speaker 1: 21:52 Yes, clearly. I mean, we're making light of this a little bit, but as you said, guards are urged to call police if they see you. So what do you think that says about the way investigative journalism is viewed, at least in this case? Speaker 6: 22:08 Yeah. I think it shows a misunderstanding of what we do and the role we play in society. I'm a spokesperson with the County said they weren't aware of the flyers and they don't approve of them and actually had been in contact with Equis to remove them. But I think our, our new managing editor, Mark Rochester, I think he said it best. And he said, quote, while we appreciate the county's commitment to removing the flyers, the fact that they were produced and distributed it at all is disturbing since it was clearly an attempt to intimidate the reporters and hinder further investigation, the threat of arresting journalists, simply for doing their jobs as an unacceptable attack on press freedom. Speaker 1: 22:49 Yeah. And this certainly comes at a time where we are hearing more often about reports of, of journalists being arrested at protests and other things has, I knew source reached out to the contractor running the crown Plaza site. And what have they said about this approach with the security guards? Speaker 6: 23:07 Yeah. Um, a representative with Equis told me that they didn't know about these flyers until I asked about them, but they said the security firm was ultimately responding to a guest's claim that somebody was going to sneak Jill and I into her room. And in response security recently placed flyers into an operating manual to alert other guards and keep watch. But I mean, this is obviously that's not something we would ever do sneak into the room of somebody who is medically compromised or has tested positive for the virus that doesn't put anyone that's just not good for anybody. Speaker 1: 23:42 Right. And then a week after your initial story, the County announced it we'll take a closer look at what's happening at the crown Plaza. So what steps did it take? Speaker 6: 23:52 Yeah, the board of supervisors ordered an independent review of the entire program. And just yesterday, the County announced that it will pay San Diego state university $140,000 to conduct the review with a final report due June 1st. Speaker 1: 24:08 And what's the current status at the crown Plaza? How many people are currently being sheltered there and do we know how much longer it will continue to be an isolation site? Speaker 6: 24:19 Yeah, the last I heard there were about 300 people isolating at the crown Plaza. And as far as how long that's going to be continued to be used, you know, unless something changes, uh, with the county's contract or on the, on the pandemic front, um, the county's contract with Equis is set to renew in July and we'll run until the end of the year. Speaker 1: 24:41 And have you heard anything more from the whistleblowers in your original story? Do you know how they're doing now? Speaker 6: 24:47 Yes. Some of them are actually still working at these hotels and, you know, they're, they're doing the best that they can with the resources and the training that they have, but they they're hopeful for change. And, and I've talked to them since this, um, this contract came out and they do, they do see hope in this. Speaker 1: 25:05 And are you planning to go back to the site for future reporting? Speaker 6: 25:12 Uh, I, I will tell you that these flyers will not stop Jill and I from reporting on these issues. Speaker 1: 25:18 Well, that's very good to hear. I've been speaking with Cody Delaney. Who's an investigative reporter for a new source. Thank you, Cody. Thank you so much that wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Joe Hong from KPBS news, Sarah Libby, from voice of San Diego and Cody Delaney from I new source. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen to anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Claire triglyceride. Thanks for listening and join us next week on the round table. [inaudible].

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The San Diego Unified School District begins its return to in-person instruction, police reform is part of Mayor Todd Gloria's Black empowerment plan, and pushback to an inewsource investigation into complaints about a local COVID-19 shelter.