La Jolla PTSA president’s email inviting ‘advocacy’ regarding school closures, online learning sparks outcry

An email sent to the La Jolla High School community by its PTSA president sharing how people opposed to ongoing school closures and those who want to continue distance learning could make their feelings known angered some parents who claim it was an inappropriate use of the organization’s email list.

The email, sent March 12 by Sharon Miller, head of the Parent Teacher Student Association, contained the subject line “LJHS PTSA – Local rallies to open schools” and included graphics promoting a March 13 rally at San Diego’s Waterfront Park and a “Back to School March” planned for March 15 “in front of your local school.”

The protests were planned by Reopen SDUSD, a parent group that has been demanding that the San Diego Unified School District reopen its campuses to all students. The schools have been closed to regular in-person instruction since last March.

Along with the graphics, the email read: “We know many in our community are anxious for LJHS to return to in-person, on-campus instruction and yet there are also students who will prefer to remain at home. For those that would like to engage in the effort of encouraging schools to reopen for in-person instruction, please see the public activism notices below.”

The email also stated that those “who would like to express their desire to remain at home, please continue to reach out to the SDUSD board.” It included the email address for board member Michael McQuary, whose District C includes La Jolla.

SDUSD plans to reopen schools April 12 for a mix of online and in-person instruction, with an option for online only.

Parent Maryana Bhak, who has two sons attending La Jolla High, called Miller’s email “totally inappropriate for a PTSA newsletter.”

In an emailed letter to the La Jolla Light, Dawniel Stewart, parent of a freshman at LJHS, said she was “shocked.”

“It is thoroughly unethical, hugely unprofessional and wildly inappropriate to misuse a parent email database in this manner,” Stewart wrote. “Regardless of stance, this is political propaganda and neither the school nor PTSA should ever promote nor disseminate such manipulative rhetoric.”

Stewart ended the letter by calling for Miller’s resignation.

Some other parents also expressed objections but did not want to go on record.

Miller told the Light that she is not resigning and had not heard from Stewart directly. Stewart disputed that, saying she emailed Miller after receiving her message.

Miller said she had received three complaints about her email out of what she estimated is a membership of 2,700 parents (LJHS has about 1,340 students enrolled).

LJHS Principal Chuck Podhorsky did not respond to a request for comment.

“The PTSA is a volunteer organization responsible for gathering and providing information and an advocacy forum for our students, families, faculty and administrators in order to facilitate discussion,” Miller said. The group “receives requests daily for information regarding issues concerning” La Jolla High, she added.

“Our community is very diverse, and there are many opinions, so our goal has been and will continue to be to provide relevant information that informs our community so individuals can make their own informed conclusions,” Miller said. PTSA members can disregard the information or “opt out of the mailing list,” she said.

Fran Shimp, a past La Jolla High PTSA president and executive vice president, said advocacy is one of the association’s “areas of focus.”

“I think we’re in uncharted times,” said Shimp, who has a senior at LJHS and two other children who graduated in previous years. Miller’s e-blast “helped families advocate for what they wanted, regardless of the position they believe in. The email was to help [people] help themselves.”

Margot Ponticello, parent of a La Jolla High sophomore, said parents could do what they want with the information in the email and that she thought there was “nothing inappropriate” in the message. ◆

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