Cardiff School students’ return to in-person learning is delayed

Construction on the new Cardiff School was halted by court order in July.

Last week Cardiff School District informed kindergarten and first grade parents at Cardiff School that it must postpone their Sept. 14 return to in-person learning. “With great disappointment and frustration,” Principal Julie Parker told parents that the district is being prevented from constructing safety measures on a portion of the campus by the injunction from Save the Park and Build the School’s federal lawsuit.

The district had been working for months with the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines in anticipation of reopening schools. Cardiff School kindergarten and first grade students will continue in the distance learning model as they have been since Aug. 25. The district’s second through sixth grade students will begin attending class in-person in a hybrid model at Ada Harris School on Sept. 14 as planned.

The district said the safety measures it needs to complete include the entry driveway and fire lane, student drop-off/pick-up area and an ADA accessible walkway to access eight of the 10 classrooms and student restrooms. These components were scheduled to be completed over the summer.

“We are disappointed that Save the Park continues to persist in its mission to use expensive litigation to obstruct the will of the voters who passed the Measure GG bond in 2016 and who eagerly await completion of the entire school, including the safer drop-off/pick-up area, new play areas and enhanced playfields,” Parker said.

In its second lawsuit against the district, Save the Park is contesting the National Park Service (NPS) approval of the boundary conversion of the Cardiff School-owned playfields, which are known as George Berkich Park. The lawsuit alleges NPS violated its own rules in approving an “unlawful” boundary conversion given that the district has not satisfied its state and federal environmental review requirements.

Chief United States District Judge Larry A. Burns granted the temporary injunction on July 20, halting construction within the original boundary of the park with the exception of the construction of biofiltration basins and turf restoration of the playfields.

The injunction was set to expire on Aug. 31, with a final decision from NPS. NPS, however, advised the court that it was trying to secure more information and needed until Sept. 11 to render its decision. Judge Burns issued an order acknowledging the delay and deferring his ruling on the district’s motion that it should be allowed to proceed with construction of the parking lot and walkway until that same date.

In a final effort on Sept. 2, the district contacted Save the Park directly to request allowance of the work needed to ensure the safe return of students.

“This request was unequivocally denied with blatant disregard for the needs of students or the greater Cardiff community,” wrote Principal Julie Parker in her message to families.

Save the Park said the accusation that they “unequivocally denied” the district’s request was false and was made with “the clear intent of stoking anger among school parents.”

“It completely misrepresents both the information that was provided to Save the Park and its response. It also fails to mention that the district had constructed a playground and landscaping in another part of the park, neither of which was essential to reopening, in disregard of the injunction,” a Save the Park representative said in a statement. “Once again, the district is manipulating its message to inflame tensions and scapegoat Save the Park for the district’s questionable decisions.”

While the district said they explained the urgency of the situation, Save the Park contends that nowhere in any of the information or briefs it filed did the district disclose to the court that the parking lot and walkway were so essential that the school could not reopen by Sept. 14 if they were not completed.

“If the requested items were so necessary to reopening, the district could have provided evidence to that effect — declarations from an expert or a public official -- they did not,” said the Save the Park representative. “In fact, apart from COVID-19, the current conditions are no less safe than they were during the prior school year when they opened the school with the children in portable classrooms in the middle of an active construction site.”

The district stated that the court and NPS have been and will continue to be made aware of the “significant negative impact” that the delays in the completion of these safety measures have had.

“Save the Park has continued to leverage this old grant agreement to advance its personal agenda. Their first lawsuit alleged, among other things, an improper lack of advanced approval from NPS. This new lawsuit challenges the very approval that NPS has now granted the district after a two-year process,” said Siena Randall, Cardiff School District board president in a statement. “Now, major safety components are left unfinished and we are unable to safely operate our own campus, the primary purpose of which is education. It’s devastating that the interests of four neighbors could unimaginably be placed over the educational needs of the community’s children.”

As the legal process continues, Cardiff School parents are left disheartened that their children continue to be the victims.

Cardiff parent Micah Bailey’s five-year-old daughter Piper had been counting down the days to her first day of “real school.” It broke his heart to overhear her crying about having to go to “Zoom School” and how much she missed playing with other kids.

After receiving the message that school would be postponed, Bailey wrote to both the district’s and Save the Parks’ attorneys, pleading that they find a resolution.

“Acknowledge that no side is completely right here. No side is completely wrong. The only thing that is clear is that because you/your clients haven’t reached a compromise and are all seemingly on a mission to be ‘right’, our kids are getting screwed out of going to school,” Bailey wrote. “Please remember that this is not a normal case with normal consequences. I don’t know who is right. But I do know what is right. The right thing is for you to resolve this case immediately so our kids can go back to school.”