Supervisor Don Wagner, a keynote speaker at the event, was among those lobbying for a full-time return to classrooms.
“It is perfectly safe, we believe, based on the science, to let the kids get back into the classroom,” Wagner told The Epoch Times.
“We see private schools have been able to operate now for months, we’re seeing the vaccines roll out. More and more people are being protected. Our case rates are declining. There’s no reason these kids, who are the least susceptible to disease, shouldn’t be back in the schools, shouldn’t be out playing on the playground, shouldn’t be out on the sports fields.”
A Parent’s Perspective
Placentia parent Stephanie Dunnam, whose children attend high school in the district, said school closure has been tough on her children.
“Teens are now locked in houses with their parents,” she said. “That’s not how this is supposed to go. Teens are supposed to be figuring out how to be independent. Not wondering where mom’s going all day long.”
Her younger child transitioned from junior high school to high school during the pandemic, Dunnam said, and wasn’t prepared for the increased demands. She said no one informed him about the heightened importance of grades, or the rigorous academic standard high school students are expected to achieve.
“He didn’t really get that he even left junior high,” Dunnam said. “He’s suffered big time. He, at one point, gave up on school; decided he didn’t want to do some of his hard classes anymore.”
She said she didn’t know her son was doing poorly in school for nearly the entirety of the first semester.
“Because we were so disconnected from the teacher, we didn’t even know,” Dunnam said. “He almost failed some of his courses the first semester simply because he felt overwhelmed and didn’t really get why it mattered anymore.”
Dunnam said kids should be back in the classroom in the “traditional structure that has worked so well for us for so long.”
“Our teachers are incredibly safe. … If they don’t feel they are, they’re welcome to take a leave and let another teacher fill in for them while they wait for their vaccine, or whatever it is they need to wait for, but our kids can’t wait any longer.”
David Chan, 18, is finishing his final semester at Valencia High School in Placentia. It has been nearly a year since schools closed, and looking back, Chan said it was shocking to see his senior year go “down the drain.”
“This is senior year. We were supposed to have some fun in the second semester, be able to enjoy our last few months that we have with our peers and with our teachers at Valencia High School,” he told The Epoch Times. “And it’s gone now.”
Chan said when the principal announced over the intercom that school was closing for two weeks nearly a year ago, everyone cheered.
“Everyone was so happy; everyone was just ecstatic that we’re not going to have to go to school,” he said. “Then it got prolonged and prolonged. The next thing you know, we don’t have a senior year, and it was pretty shocking.”
He said that communication with his friends has suffered from school closures, and the inability to attend in person has been a huge academic roadblock.
Right now, district teachers are instructing in-person students and remote learners at the same time.
During days students are allowed at school, some, such as Chan, opt to learn remotely because it’s difficult for instructors to balance the two teaching mediums.
“If the teachers are focusing on everyone that’s on Zoom, they neglect the kids that are in the class,” he said. “Then it becomes more beneficial for you and your education if you’re able to be at home, where the teacher is actually able to focus on you.”
Chan said even students in class will watch the teacher on Zoom so they can get more attention.
Yulianie Hernandez, 17, who also goes to Valencia High School, said the hybrid classroom has interfered with her learning.
She said it results in a lack of engagement with the teacher among her classmates.
Especially on Zoom, Hernandez said it’s difficult to focus with the distractions of learning from home.
“There’s your phone right there. There’s a laptop right there. … There’s your family there, your home,” Hernandez said. “You kind of just roll out of bed. You’re all groggy and you go to class. It’s a lot harder to focus on Zoom than it would be in a classroom.”
Hernandez is transitioning to college next year, and said she’s uncertain about getting the college experience if it means continuing to learn remotely.
Her parents have noticed her struggles and want school to go back to in-person full time.
“My parents definitely want me to go to school because they’ve seen the impact that it’s had on me,” Hernandez said. “They see the impact that it’s had on my mental health; they’ve seen it on my education; they’ve seen me become a lot less motivated. And I can see that a lot for [other students] across the board.”
A Show of Support
PYLUSD board member Leandra Blades attended the rally to show her support for schools to reopen.
“We have so many kids in our community who they don’t speak English; their families don’t speak English,” Blades told The Epoch Times. “We have special education students; we have kids on IEPs [Individualized Education Program]; we have so many kids who need to be in school with the teacher and they need to be learning.
“This has just been too long, and our kids deserve so much better. … My heart is absolutely going out right now to these junior and senior athletes that have lost their years of eligibility, their chances for scholarships. I know all the things that have been lost, and I just think that’s a travesty.”