TEHACHAPI — Tehachapi Unified School District parents and students are up in arms over the school board's decision to continue with virtual learning at least through Dec. 18 because of Gov. Gavin Newsom's latest guidelines for reopening schools under the COVID-19 tier system.

In response to the board's Tuesday decision made during a Zoom meeting, more than 100 TUSD students showed up at Tehachapi High School on Thursday with Chromebooks in hand for a peaceful, but organized protest that they called The Chromebook Sit-in.

Although the students came with the intent to attend their classes and work off the school's Wi-Fi while sitting on the grass or inside their parents' cars in surrounding parking lots, it became apparent that the signal was too weak.

Once honor roll students, the parents of at least 87 TUSD students of the Reopening Tehachapi Schools Facebook page have reported that their children are now failing key classes for myriad reasons.

And it's only October.

Among the protesters was Gloria Estes, whose son is a high school freshman. Last year, Estes' son earned all A's at a local charter school, but she recently found out he is receiving all D's and F's.

"I received no notification," said Estes.

Part of the problem is the learning platforms assigned to the students, Estes said.

"I have been kicked off four times and was no longer recognized by the system in the first six weeks... Parents cannot access information about their children, only the kids can... We are given zero training on any of their websites," Estes said.

In addition, Estes said her son is at his computer 12 hours a day, six days a week, without breaks, in an attempt to bring up his grades to passing.

TUSD Superintendent Stacey Larson-Everson and Board President Jeff Kermode did not respond for comment as of Thursday afternoon. However, the superintendent and president sent a letter to TUSD parents dated Wednesday, which reads in part:

"...The District acknowledges that Virtual Learning is not ideal and has imposed a hardship on many of our students and families. We are striving to do the best that we can given our current, very challenging reality. Because Kern County remains in the most restrictive 'Purple Tier' of California's re-opening framework, schools are not allowed to open for in-person instruction without receiving a waiver. We are permitted to bring back small cohorts of students with special needs... and are in the process of finalizing plans to do so."

The board will meet next Oct. 13.

Out Thursday on the THS grass, Carrie Kennison, the mother of four TUSD students in kindergarten through eighth grade, said three of her four children are failing all their classes. 

"I feel like our kids are being failed by this program. They are frustrated and they cry all the time. They don't want to do school, they don't want to go to school... they want to be in school," said Kennison.

Cassie Smith, 16, a junior at THS went from A's and B's last year to a failing grade in her geometry class.

"I have no clue what is going on in there," said Smith, who does school work seven days a week. "The whole Canvas platform is really confusing because each teacher has it set up differently. I have a hard time finding assignments, and due dates for classes. It's a disaster. It feels 10 times more stressful. School is already stressful in itself."

Also protesting was Alicia Hernandez, the mother of five daughters, three of whom are still in school. Although all three are still getting good grades, Hernandez said she is particularly concerned about her 16-year-old, who is a junior in high school and earned a 4.33 GPA last year.

"She is the epitome of a great student," Hernandez said of her daughter.

In an effort to keep up with her school work, Hernandez said her daughter sits down at her computer at 9 a.m. seven days a week, and does not complete her studies until 3 a.m. the following morning.

"She is crying over it every night, and she is utterly exhausted," Hernandez said. "It's ridiculous. These kids have worked so hard their whole life. She is still getting good grades, but it is costing her so much emotionally and physically."

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