Students, parents rally outside North Tustin’s Foothill High School demanding return of classroom teaching and sports

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“Back in school, back in sports” was the rallying cry of dozens of students and parents outside Foothill High School in North Tustin on Saturday morning, the day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that most Southern California counties won’t be allowed to reopen campuses this fall unless conditions improve.

“There isn’t learning that’s happening,” one local mother said of online instruction. “It’s busy work that’s assigned, not evaluated, not turned back with any response or feedback.”

On Friday, the governor declared that counties placed on a state watchlist for heightened coronavirus activity can’t hold in-person classes unless they stay off the list for two consecutive weeks.

Orange County, which has recently outpaced most Southern California counties with its rate of COVID-19 spread, remains one of 32 on the watchlist. L.A., Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside counties are also on the list.

As of Friday, O.C. has reported 469 coronavirus deaths and more than 28,300 positive cases.

Before Newsom’s announcement on schools, the Tustin Unified School District offered families the option of full online learning or a hybrid schedule. That’s despite the O.C. Board of Education’s recommendation to bring back students and teachers to classrooms without requiring masks or social distancing. But after the governor’s declaration, the district said it will start the school year Aug. 13 fully online.

Protesters at Saturday morning’s demonstration urged Newsom to let parents make the choice on whether to send their children back to school.

One parent at the rally acknowledged educators’ ongoing efforts during the pandemic, but argued that structure is critical for students.

“We’re not saying there shouldn’t be masks, there shouldn’t be plexiglass, there shouldn’t be face shields for teachers or anything to that extent,” he said. “We are saying [that] these kids should be in school. They should be able to learn and educate and socialize and do all the things that children do at this point in their lives.”

Teens rallied with their parents as some passing motorists honked in support.

Most of the demonstrators wore masks and held signs with messages such as “Mental health is important,” “Kids need sports and school,” and “Let kids play.”

When asked, one student told KTLA he was not too concerned about the coronavirus and that remote learning did not present much of a challenge.

“It’s really easy to get answers, like, from online,” he said.

A student athlete highlighted the role of sports in some young people’s lives.

“It’s definitely hard on my life not being able to go outside and play every day, practice a couple hours,” he said. “Without that in my life, I’m missing part of myself.”

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