PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom has less than a week to convince voters why he should keep his job, but a group of LAUSD parents who feel he mishandled school closures say they’ve already decided a new candidate will be a better fit.
One of the reasons parent Christie Pesicka-Naini moved into her condo was because Playa Vista Elementary School is within walking distance. Christie says she’s thrilled her son Jackson is finally getting his first chance to experience school in person.
"I always liked the idea of the sense of community you get with having a public school that you could walk to and you know your neighbors and they all send their kids as well," Pesicka-Naini explained as she walked to pick Jackson up from school.
Jackson was supposed to start Kindergarten last year, but distance learning was so difficult on him, Pesicka-Naini says she pulled him out and put him back into a preschool. She’s been fighting for public education ever since, working as a volunteer for Gov. Newsom’s office like she was on staff.
"It started with trying to get funding for the ventilation and PPE, get teachers prioritized for vaccinations, which I thought was really important and then it led to getting all the funding for schools," Pesicka-Naini explained. "There’s a record funding for public education this year which I worked with Newsom’s office on.”
Pesicka-Naini used her background in television and film production to get things done in the government realm. She says on set everyone works together, using their many differences to their advantage instead of letting it tear them apart. It’s a can-do attitude she directed to public education when her career came to a screeching halt with the shut down.
Even now that productions have started to resume, Pesicka-Naini says no one wants to hire a mom with a school-aged kid because there’s too many uncertainties about her availability.
"It's devastating for those of us [who] just want to re-enter the workforce," Pesicka-Naini said. "I just represent one of many moms who lost their careers and they say on average, it’s going to be five years to rebuild your career from taking off this kind of time.”
She’s used this time to work tirelessly with a group of other parents supporting the governor she voted into office, but as Gov. Newsom continued to draw out the return to in-person learning, Pesicka-Naini says they grew increasingly disappointed. Even now, she says there isn’t a clear, cohesive plan for all schools across the state.
"We need someone to stand up to say this is the universal rules," Pesicka-Naini explained.
It’s why she’s now actively campaigning for Republican Kevin Kiley, who says he will not be shutting schools down again, despite a rapid increase in delta variant cases.
"What we know from the evidence is that it’s a lot less safe to have kids at home. I mean that’s been very clearly established,” Kiley said during a radio interview that Pesicka-Naini also participated in as a LAUSD parent, showing her support for the candidate.
It’s a stance he and Pesicka-Naini both stand firm on, even with more than 5,200 students testing positive for COVID-19 in just the first two weeks that school returned, according to LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
Dr. Ferrer called the average of 500 cases a day a sobering statistic during her virtual update on COVID and LA County schools.
In the last week of August, there were eight outbreaks involving 72 students.
"It’s sobering because the numbers are high, and every single one of those cases needs follow up," Dr. Ferrer said.
For the mom with her own five-year-old, Pesicka-Naini says hearing those high case numbers is concerning, but still feels that Jackson needs to be learning in the classroom.
In recent press conferences and interviews, Gov. Newsom says he stands by his decisions for schools, adding that he’s been following the science while trying to balance partnerships with more than 1,000 school districts across the state, in addition to securing record-high funding for education.
Newsom’s public health team says that requiring masks for everyone will ensure that schools can remain open.