Wildomar charter school plans on opening in-person

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In a story first reported by KABC-TV in Los Angeles, the Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts in Wildomar plans to reopen its doors to students on the first day of school Monday, Aug. 24.

Barbara Hale, executive director of Sycamore Academy who also serves as the District 7 representative with the Riverside County Board of Education, responded to questions posed by Valley News recently.

“We are doing what we were asked to do, provide supervision, rigorous education and make sure our students have the resources and support they need,” Hale said. “I believe that the governor (Newsom) wants us to serve our students.”

But opening its doors Monday would mean they would be in direct violation of an order handed down by Gov. Gavin Newsom that schools should not be open to in-person learning until the county’s bout with the coronavirus pandemic is more under control.

According to the KABC-TV report, the station obtained a copy of an email from Hale in which she said the school would be applying for child care licenses and that, “no such order exists” regarding mandates to close schools.

“We’ve learned that public schools are license-exempt so we can provide child care without a license,” Hale told Valley News, saying the process was coming along “very well.”

Hale also said that she doesn’t expect any blowback from the decision to open its doors from the charter’s sponsor district, Lake Elsinore Unified School District, or from the Riverside County Board of Education.

Valley News reached out to LEUSD for comment but received no response.

Craig Petinak, director of public relations and communications services for Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Judy White, Ph.D., said White would not be commenting on the matter.

“Dr. White will not be commenting on this topic as Sycamore Academy is a charter school that is authorized by the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, not by the Riverside County Office of Education,” Petinak said.

Roland Skumawitz, board president of the Ronald Reagan Charter School Alliance, the governing board for the school, refused comment and directed all inquiries to Hale.

According to the KABC-TV report, Sycamore Academy will offer three options for students starting Monday – distanced learning from home by using Chromebooks provided by the school, home study packets with 90 minutes per week of remote time with a teacher and returning to the classroom.

Hale told KABC-TV’s Rob McMillan that each classroom would be limited to 14 students.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, provided KABC-TV with a statement regarding the school’s intentions.

“What the school is doing is illegal, and while it is a viewpoint some schools in Riverside County have embraced, it has no basis in jurisprudence,” Dr. Kaiser said in a statement to KABC. “The opinion of our county counsel is that the state’s guidance has the full force and effect of law, is mandatory, and applies to public and private schools equally. Should these schools reopen, we would refer them to the state for enforcement.”

Kaiser also sent a memo to all Riverside County school districts recently that indicated that while the state mandates suggest that waivers would be available for schools and districts, Riverside County currently doesn’t qualify.

“Riverside County does not currently meet the state’s threshold to begin accepting waivers,” according to the statement released by the county.

Hale, who was elected in 2016 to the Riverside County Board of Education, represents Temecula Valley Unified, Murrieta Valley Unified and Lake Elsinore Unified school districts, did not respond to a Valley News questions regarding Kaiser’s statement.

But she did respond to a question about how parents and students are responding to the school’s plans.

“Parents are desperate for help, and they appreciate the steps we are taking to ensure safety while providing the resources their children need,” Hale said. “We have been flooded with applications since the channel 7 interview but we are unable to take more students.”

Sycamore Academy was authorized by LEUSD in 2009 and opened with 240 students in September of that year. The school was and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, gaining full accreditation for a K-6 program. LEUSD renewed Sycamore Academy for another five-year term and expanded to teach through eighth grade in 2018.

For more information, visit https://sycamoreacademycharter-cv.org.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.