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By Collin Breaux

An estimated crowd of 50-100 people demonstrated outside Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) offices on Wednesday, June 10, in favor of schools returning to pre-pandemic conditions when campuses reopen. Parents attended and brought their children.

Some of the parents at the event said they are against masks or social distancing being required of students. They also said they are against reopening guidelines recently brought forth by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, including rotating school attendance. The demonstration was organized by Parent Supported Action Plan-CUSD, which recently formed and has an Instagram account outlining their views.

“We want to work with the school district. We’re not anti-Capo Unified,” said Sarah Beck, a parent and one of the organizers. “We love our schools and our school district. We want to stand up for our kids so they can have a positive experience.”

Beck said she would homeschool her kids and remove her family from CUSD if masks are required, since masks can make non-verbal communication and facial expressions difficult to interpret.

“Kids need to have social interaction,” Beck said when asked about social distancing. “It’s important for human growth, for their development.”

Parents and children display signs during a demonstration calling for no masks or social distancing for students when they return to campus. Photo: Collin Breaux.

When reached for comment, Ryan Burris, CUSD chief communications officer, said they “appreciate hearing from our families” and “are grateful for their support and partnership as we develop plans to safely reopen our classrooms for students and staff.” 

“Our objective is to open on schedule, as normal as possible, if conditions and resources allow us to do so,” Burris said. “While we are developing reopening options that we will share publicly this Friday, specific health and safety guidelines will not be adopted until we are closer to opening school.”

CUSD is currently using guidance provided by the California Department of Health to guide their work. CUSD has sent parents surveys asking their feedback on what education should look like going forward.

A compromise suggested by Beck included continuing to provide distance learning for families not ready to return to campus. The parents at the June 10 demonstration also advocated for handwashing to keep students safe. Demonstrators walked around the CUSD parking lot holding signs, some of which said, “We need to breathe play interact no masks!” and “Normalize schools!”

“I would like to see five days a week, six hours a day, just like normal,” Beck said. “I am open to kids having their temperature taken as they come into school. We don’t want kids with fevers at school. We never have.”

Carla Leigh is a single parent who has to work full-time to provide for her family, and she said teaching her kids at home would mean she wouldn’t be able to work.

Katie O’Mara, another parent at the event, expressed skepticism toward the effectiveness of masks, as have others in South Orange County. Health experts recommend wearing face masks in public to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19, at the beginning, we all respected that. In the first month, it was like, is this the plague? What is this?” O’Mara said. “Now, we don’t need to be as afraid to go on with our lives. Any day could be our last day, so we might as well do the best that we can.”

Dana Halverstadt, another CUSD parent, asked how teachers are supposed to instruct students while wearing masks.

“I have a third-grader. She’s going into fourth grade. Her sign said, ‘Kids like me want to go back to school,’ ” Halverstadt said. “They yearn for their friendships at school. She did well at home with me, but she needs to be in school. She needs to be in recess.”

Some people who viewed online video of the demonstration disagreed with the demonstrators, saying they were endangering others and ignoring science.

The CUSD Board of Trustees and CUSD officials are expected to discuss what reopening could look like during a June 17 meeting. Families can share feedback then.

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