PASO ROBLES — Nearly 100 moms, dads, grandparents and kids rallied in the Paso Robles Downtown City Park on Saturday, Sept. 12, calling for area schools to open for face-to-face instruction.
The two-hour rally to reopen schools was organized by a group of local moms, said one of the moms, Beth Giuffre, who was also the emcee.
Several speakers, including a CTE student, a Paso Robles teacher, a retired doctor and a Paso Robles Joint Unified School District trustee, took to the Carnegie Library steps and spoke to the crowd.
“It’s a good start. Our intention was just to really give a voice to the children,” Giuffre said. “We’ve been hearing from a lot of grownups talking about things like liability at school board meetings. My main call to action, if there is one, is we need to start asking and talking about how the children are feeling and doing socially and mentally because as a mom and someone who loves children, what I am seeing is a very disturbing sense of despair. Especially with teens, their social-emotional well-being is not being talked about as it should.”
At one point, Giuffre read messages from several area students out loud. All of the students talked about what they were missing out due to distance learning — such as socializing with friends, going to games, attending dances, doing hands-on projects, and face-to-face conversations with teachers.
“Here is an anonymous teenager. She said, ‘I want to go back to school. This is my senior year and it has been taken away from me. I wanted my senior year to be memorable. It definitely will be just not in a positive way. I was looking forward to hanging out with my favorite teachers and making new friends. That has been eliminated because the schools are too scared to open back up,’” Giuffre read.
People at the rally called for both in-person learning and the resumption of high school sports and activities. Signs at the event read, “Our Children’s Future Must Not Be Determined by Fear,” “Newsom is Bullying My School,” and “Children are Suffering Open Schools Now.”
Retired podiatrist Dr. Rex Thornhill explained how the coronavirus is spread and that there was little risk of it spreading like wildfire between students and teachers.
“The bottom line to wrap it all up, we have things we say in medicine,” Thornhill said, “‘Is the cure worse than the disease’ and I think we can say in this situation the operation was successful but the patient died. Let the kids go back to school.”
PRJUSD trustee Chris Arend and others said the decision to have schools begin the year with distance learning was based more on politics than science. And that the quality of education the children are receiving was not on par with in-person instruction. Arend made it clear from the outset that he was not speaking on behalf of the school district or the board. Arend has a high school-aged son.
“We have got to get the kids back in school,” Arend said. “Well, what can we do about it. We are doing part of it here, holding this rally. We have to be squeaky wheels. We all have to raise a ruckus and we especially have to do it with our state legislatures and the governor. We have to let them know we are not going to stand for this anymore.”