'Missing all CA students' billboard sparks controversy as North Bay schools work to reopen safely

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Billboard sparks school reopening controversy in North Bay
An electronic billboard along Highway 101 reading "Missing All CA Students, last seen 3/13/2020" has become instantly controversial. Here's how parents and teachers are responding.

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- You cannot miss it if you travel Highway 101 through Rohnert Park -- the electronic billboard that went up last weekend has become instantly controversial.

"Missing All CA Students, last seen 3/13/2020," it reads, almost like an AMBER Alert. The message, for which some parents chipped in their own money, leaves little middle ground.

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"It is insulting to our teachers who are working so hard," said Tamara Litori, a mother.

"I was a little bit shocked. It is offensive to teachers for what we are doing," said Kiyoko Nakano, a teacher.

More than the sign, this issue goes beyond a district, a county, or a state. It's national. What we see in Sonoma County is just a microcosm.

"I think the fundamental principle is to give the kids a choice," said Jennifer Wilterwood. She is a former school board president in Cotati and Rohnert Park.

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None of the parents who paid for the sign agreed to be interviewed on camera or identified, but Wilterwood knows them. "Honestly, I think it is the unions holding people back."

Maya Perez, the superintendent in that district, describes the issue as being more complicated. "It is a very difficult process to get our schools ready. I will say that some students are thriving and others need to get back."

"Would you feel safe putting your students back in the classroom?"

"Just about. Maybe by March 1."

Ryan Sweet, a nurse and now stay-at-home dad with two kids, says the education system wasn't designed to work this way. "I would never say the teachers are not working hard. But they can walk around in their pajamas all day long instead of being next to kids in the classroom. We need them there."

Fourth grade teacher Kiyoko Nakano responds, "What they don't understand is I am working four times as hard as when I was in the classroom."

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