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Planned school walkouts impact local districts' absences

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After more than a year of distance learning, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) administrators hoped this school year would see some of the highest attendance rates in a while. They thought kids would be eager to return to the classroom, and parents would be ready to have the kids out of the house again.

But between COVID-19-related absences and, more recently, planned school walkouts to protest vaccine mandates, average daily attendance (ADA) isn't looking as rosy as the district initially hoped.

ABSENT IN PROTEST Parents across SLO County kept their kids home on Oct. 18 to protest vaccine mandates for students. Districts say they experienced an inordinate number of absences that day. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • ABSENT IN PROTEST Parents across SLO County kept their kids home on Oct. 18 to protest vaccine mandates for students. Districts say they experienced an inordinate number of absences that day.

The state funds PRJUSD based on its ADA. Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Gaviola explained that next school year, the state is giving the district the option to be funded based on this year's attendance or the 2019-20 year's attendance, whichever is better. The 2019-20 year saw about 94 percent average daily attendance.

"We hoped this year's ADA would be a higher percentage [than 2019-20]," Gaviola said. "If we got 95 percent this year, we would ... be funded on that [next year]. But with COVID numbers rising, with the walkout ... our percentages are definitely in that lower 90 percent."

Parents across the state kept their kids home to protest vaccine mandates for students on Oct. 18. Superintendent Curt Dubost said the district saw 1,022 more absences that day compared to absences on an average day. This equates to $55,000 in lost potential revenue that the district could have claimed for next school year, Dubost said.

"We were supportive of the parents who expressed an objection, but still sent their kids to school so the school wouldn't lose revenue," Dubost said. "We understand the frustration of the parents and their right to express it but wish they could find a way to do it that doesn't keep kids out of school or cost us money."

According to a flyer from the Children's Health Defense, another walkout was planned for Nov. 3. Participants were encouraged to meet at the SLO County Public Health Department. Another flyer from the same organization encouraged walkout participants in Northern Santa Barbara County to meet at Lompoc City Hall.

Paso isn't the only local district that saw inordinate absences from the Oct. 18 walkout. San Luis Coastal Unified School District had 103 absences confirmed as part of the walkout, Educational Services Executive Assistant Valarie Harrigan said. Lucia Mar Unified School District's attendance was also down that day compared to the previous Monday, district Marketing and Communications Coordinator Amy Jacobs said.

Central Coast Families for Education Reform (CCFER), a group of Lucia Mar parents, has been particularly vocal against vaccine mandates.

"We've had individual [CCFER] members that have said they participated in the last one and will participate in future walkouts," CCFER Vice President Mike Mulder said. "Our group continues to advocate for choice. We've always believed that parents make the best decisions for their kids."

CCFER is also leading a charge to recall Lucia Mar board members Don Stewart, Colleen Martin, and Dee Santos. In order to get the recall on a ballot, the group must collect 8,302 signatures by Nov. 4. But Mulder said on Nov. 2 that he doesn't think they'll have enough by the deadline.

"We're still a ways away," he said. "We're over 6,000, probably getting close to 7,000. ... We're not very optimistic that we're going to hit the number." Δ

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