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Mixed Reviews For San Diego Unified’s Limited Back To School Experiment

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Nicholas McVicker

A teacher guides students through a lesson at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont Mesa on Oct. 13, 2020.

Some parents of special-needs students say they haven’t received the services they hoped for. District officials say they are working to increase services at all schools. Meanwhile, a new study shows education gaps caused by distance learning disproportionately affect students of color. Plus, we’ll also review the race for the 77th state assembly seat.

Governor Gavin Newsom is dedicating another 200-million dollars in funding for Homekey. That's the state's program to provide permanent housing for the homeless. In San Jose one Homekey project will be built on state-owned land, so the cost to build each unit will be far less than market rate.

Newsom's push for Homekey has critics. Just north of San Jose, the Milpitas City Council voted to sue in order to stop a hotel in their city from being converted into homeless housing.

The governor had this reply:

"A hundred and thirty-two studio units with supportive services. What an extraordinary opportunity. I don't wanna see them walk away from that. And you're gonna regret this."

Milpitas city staff had supported the project, but residents raised safety concerns as well as the lack of a guarantee that space in the project would go to the homeless in Milpitas.

California leads the nation in development of solar energy projects during the past decade. A new report by Environment California Research finds electricity generated by solar energy in the state is up 2000 percent.

Emily Rusch is the director of the California Public Interest Campaign. She says the growth in renewable energy is good for the state and good for residents.

“The public health consequences and the consequences on our pocketbooks of relying on dirty fossil fuels for energy have actually resulted in real problems. In air pollution. In global warming pollution In increased frequency and intensity of wildfires that we’re seeing in California. And we have not taken those costs, those external costs into account. For far too long.”

The report also finds California leads the nation in the number of electric vehicles sold and in the number of available charging stations.

On a monday, it’s October 26th, and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters from KPBS News. I’m Annica Colbert. Stay with me for more of the local news you need to start your day.

San Diego Unified School District is now two weeks into its first phase of reopening. Students at risk of falling behind have been able to return to campus. And while some families are happy with the limited in-person instruction, others have been disappointed by the lack of services.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke with one parent about her experience.

Some schools regularly have up to 50 students on campus each day. At other schools, not enough teachers have volunteered to participate. Ashley Lewis's son is a fourth grader on the autism spectrum who attends Ocean Beach Elementary. She said her school wasn't able to get occupational therapy for her son during the first phase of reopening.
From what I understand talking to our principal, it's optional for our teachers. He can't force them to come back. So if they don't want to come back and teach in person, he can't force them.
School Board Vice President Richard Barrera acknowledged the disparity between schools and says officials are working to make sure more teachers feel safe coming back to campus.
Our goal is that all of the students that are eligible for phase one should be able to come on and get the services and get the instruction they need. And so we have to solve that challenge.
Earlier this week, the district announced details for Phase Two of reopening, where elementary school students would be on campus four days a week and middle and high school students would be on campuses twice a week. But there is not yet a date for the start of phase two. Joe Hong KPBS News.

A new report reveals that the pandemic has widened education gaps for underserved and minority children. KPBS's Sarah Katsiyiannis has more.

Many school districts will continue some form of distance learning for months to come. And a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California reveals that distance learning has widened the gaps for children of color, children in low-income families and those of less-educated parents.
Laura Hill is co-author of the report and told KPBS about some key findings. 43 percent of low-income households did not always have internet available for educational purposes. Nearly a third of low-income families missed their rent or mortgage payment during the spring and nearly half did not have confidence in their ability to pay in the following month. She says that it's critical to monitor and provide resources for student's well-being and learning.
"And that means not only providing the devices of course but ongoing access to the internet."
She says that this is not something that districts can handle on their own and that there is a need for federal and state funds. SOQ

Retail stores were facing financial struggles and store closures long before the pandemic. But it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier with the expansion of on-line shopping. Now another iconic American retail brand is... downsizing.

KPBS's Devin Whatley reports.

COVID-19 has swept many businesses into a hole, and now Gap, Inc. is the next to downsize.
The company announced it will be shutting down 350 stores in retail malls across America by 2024 as part of restructuring due to COVID-19. That means one third of Gap stores, along with 130 Banana Republic stores, owned by the Gap, are expected to be shuttered in the next four years.
Miro Copic is a lecturer at San Diego State University and co-founder of Bottom Line Marketing.
He said despite the losses, Gap Inc.'s plan is what other retail stores have to go through since the pandemic has shifted consumers even more toward online shopping.
"Online spending is reaching in the 35, 40, 45 percent of total retail spend and what all these retailers are looking at is how much of that will be permanent."
Gap Inc. plans to increase its number of Old Navy and Athleta stores, which have been thriving due to its low price options. SOQ

For decades clinical trials have mostly recruited white men, but a federal study called “All of Us” is trying to change that. It aims to diversify medical research by collecting genetic data from a million people, with around half of them being people of color.

But as KPBS reporter Shalina Chatlani says some researchers believe the program may not actually benefit everyone.

Eleven years ago, when Los Angeles resident Estela Mata was thirty five years old, her sister was diagnosed with Lupus.
MATA: And she literally almost died.
Treatments were hard to find for the Mexican family. Lupus, a disease that causes the immune system to attack the body, still doesn't have a cure.
MATA: when we found out that lupus was like genetic, we're like, oh, my gosh, like we need to get more involved into clinical trials
She and her sister heard about a National Institutes of Health clinical trial called the All of Us Study and enrolled about a year ago in Los Angeles. The $1.5 billion dollar program started enrolling patients in 2018 and hopes to rectify a decades-long problem -- that most clinical trials have only collected data on white men, and not Latinas like Mata.
MATA: we're talking about precision medicine, right? We're talking about the future of our healthcare. Right now it's not customized to the individual
She says she gave up her genetic information because she thought it would be used to help people of color. Hispanic women are more likely to be affected by Lupus compared to white women.
AMBI: OCEAN But, One genetics researcher says, the All of Us program is likely not really for All of Us.
FOX: you can't really talk about science in America without talking about colonialism.
UC San Diego anthropologist Keolu Fox looks at the ocean. It reminds him of when he got into genetics to study his Hawaiian ancestry, but found people like him are often exploited in science.
In science, there aren't enough PhD carrying brown, black, indigenous people to represent our interests.
Fox says that exploitation of people of color could happen with the All of Us research program, funded by taxpayer dollars. The data is open to everyone.
FOX:Is it actually going to benefit indigenous, black and brown communities in the same way that it's going to benefit a handful of people that work for Pfizer, Merck, GSK, et cetera? I don't think so.
Harvard biomedical historian Ben Hurlbut says that's likely. In the 90s, academic researchers started teaming up with rare disease community groups to identity genes causing disease to try to come up with treatments. But…
HURLBUT: The academic researchers would patent the gene without the involvement of the rare disease group who brought them the resources to do the research in the first place.
In fact, after scientists discovered the gene causing cystic fibrosis in 1989, a rare disease group and NIH funded researchers partnered to study the condition. Vertex Pharmaceuticals used the decades of research to create a therapy that could help 90% of patients… but.. it costs around $300,000 dollars a year.
HURLBUT: when that drug came out my daughter one of her best friends had CF. His mom took on a full time job in order to pay for the drug
More than 270,000 people have signed up or gone through All of Us so far. Hurlbut says the solution to unequal healthcare access isn't easy, but we control the market dynamics and…
HURLBUT: we could change those tomorrow if there was the political will to do so
Pharmaceutical companies are working on the All of US Study. But, Alyssa Cotler, a spokeswoman for the program, says participants get information before they consent. And she says private-public partnerships in drug discovery have produced life-saving therapies.
COTLER: it really is important to bring together all of these different voices to make sure that we're building a resource that will be available to answer this very ambitious call.
Cotler says the data has been made anonymous and there's a code of conduct. She says the NIH is aware future treatments from the program may be unaffordable. But, she said the NIH doesn't have an answer to that problem yet and says it's not their job to control drug prices.
COTLER: there have been a lot of conversations with different communities to really help us think this through and think about potential solutions.
As for All of us Study patient Estela Mata, she says she's ok with the idea of her data going to a pharmaceutical company… if people like her sister, who need the therapies, will be able to afford them. Shalina Chatlani, KPBS news.

Voters in the 77th District will decide next month whether to keep Democratic Assemblyman Brian Maienschein or replace him with Republican employment lawyer June Yang Cutter. It is a rematch of the March primary, which Maienschein won handily.
KPBS's Amita Sharma has more.

Maienschein touts his record of authoring more than 100 bills signed into law, dealing with mental health to homelessness to small businesses. The four-term assemblyman also backed a slew of police reform bills, including a mandate that the attorney general investigate police killings of unarmed suspects. He left the Republican Party in 2019, a move he thinks voters will understand.
"I was very uncomfortable with Donald Trump and everything about him. And then when I saw how he was being enabled as well, it was something that I just felt that I needed to stand up for. And I'm really glad I did."
Maienschein slammed President Trump's handling of the pandemic while praising Governor Gavin Newsom's response. His Republican opponent Cutter says Trump's management of the pandemic, "is what it is," but adds that Newsom has done poorly. The employment lawyer says she's running to "correct societal disparities" in public education and to help stop California's spiralling cost of living.
"And let's talk about why that is. It's not just expensive because we live in a gorgeous, sunny state like California. There's a lot of regulations that are placed on various industries which make the cost of housing and the cost of goods so expensive.
The 77th Assembly District includes Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, Poway and some areas in San Diego. Amita Sharma, KPBS News.

Coming up... The 1988 fires that scorched Yellowstone National Park captivated the nation and marked a new chapter of massive wildfires in the West.

"Old Faithful was surrounded by fires on all sides. And I remember just being amazed that everywhere I looked for 360 degrees, I saw fire."

That story next after this break.

In the summer of 1988 Yellowstone National Park was engulfed in flames. After the fire was extinguished, plenty of thorny questions remained: What did those fires mean for the park's near-pristine rivers and lakes? Today we start a series taking a closer look at where water and fire intersect across the West.

From KHOL in Jackson Hole Wyoming, Robyn Vincent reports.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White is at Kepler Cascades—where whitewater plunges 150 feet into the Firehole River. The multi-tiered waterfall is flanked by a sea of mature lodgepole pine trees. Dotted in between are young trees that sprouted after the 1988 fires.

"You can see some of the variation and the landscape and the types of environments that were affected."

The 1988 Yellowstone fires torched more than a third of the park and touched nearly all of its landscapes in some way. That meant...

"...very few watersheds in Yellowstone were not impacted."

White likes to call Yellowstone "America's first water park." It's home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots and hot springs gush, bubble, and boil here, too.

Because the 1988 fires focused the nation's attention on wildfire for months, soon after, scientists descended on the park to study the impacts.

What they found reflects the fires' legacy of renewal. Small streams were affected in the short-term, with ashy runoff, but big bodies of water showed little change in water quality.

That resilience proved important. Back then, saving and then recovering watersheds wasn't top of mind for overwhelmed fire managers. Human-built infrastructure was the priority.

3 FRYE: "Very quickly it became apparent we did not have and could not have the resources to contain the fires, despite the best effort of thousands of firefighters."

That's Steve Frye, a former incident commander. He and his team were laser focused on protecting three things:

5 FRYE: "Firefighters, the public, and those iconic developments within the park."

Icons like the historic Old Faithful Inn, built in 19-03. Former Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey was a law enforcement ranger at the time.

6 WHITTLESEY: "Old Faithful was surrounded by fires on all sides. And I remember just being amazed that everywhere I looked for 360 degrees, I saw fire."

For incident commander Frye, the fires signaled a paradigm shift. They ushered in a new chapter of massive, frequent fires that communities across the West face today. And, they expanded our understanding of wildfires' vital ecological process.

8 FRYE: "It was for many of us in wildland fire management, something we had never experienced before. But the magnitude and the fire behavior we have experienced a number of times since."

The subtext here is climate change. It's fueling longer, intense fire seasons. Montana State University paleoecologist Cathy Whitlock studies how climate influences fire. She was in Yellowstone in the summer of 88. But she wasn't there for the fires. Whitlock was examining the history of the park's plants, and the fires—were simply a nuisance.

11 WHITLOCK: "I hadn't really even thought about fire as being something worthy of attention because there hadn't been fires in Yellowstone for a long time. But then in 88, there were fires everywhere."

In the end, the fires refocused her career. She pioneered a way to trace fire history thousands of years using charcoal from the park's lakes and streams.

And she found that in many Western forests: wildfires have long played a key ecological role. But today, with a smaller window between fires the concern is:

12 WHITLOCK: "there won't be enough time for trees to establish, for seeds to disperse."

In turn, forests could transform into grasslands. This all dials back to water. In 1988, Yellowstone saw a profoundly dry summer, priming it for megafires. It was the kind of hot, dry summer that will likely become more frequent in the years ahead, putting Yellowstone's wildfire resilience to the test. I'm Robyn Vincent, in Jackson, Wyoming.

That was Robyn Vincent reporting from Jackson Hole Wyoming. This story is part of a series looking at where water and wildfire intersect in the West, produced by KUNC, KJZZ, KHOL, Aspen Public Radio, and Wyoming Public Radio. Support comes from the Walton Family Foundation.

That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Matters

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.