After a year of COVID-19, Laguna Beach USD on track to reopen secondary schools on March 17

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An areal view of the Laguna Beach High School track, which will temporarily close for renovations.
Photo by Cyrus Polk – Sparkle Films.

By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent

Supt. Jason Viloria reaffirmed Thursday that the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s middle and high schools are on track to reopen on Wednesday.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the district’s schools closed on March 16, 2020. Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School are set to reopen for in-person classes on March 17, marking a year of school closure.

“I recognize that this has been a long and arduous journey to reopening our secondary schools to in-person instruction and I’m grateful for your patience and perseverance through this challenging time,” Viloria said.

Health officials announced Friday that Orange County had entered the less-restrictive Red Tier of the state’s reopening plan. With a current test positivity rate of 3.2 percent, as of March 9, Orange County met the first of the two-consecutive week criteria to move into the less restrictive Red Tier.

“Obviously, the only way we wouldn’t be able to is if we’re told ‘you’re not allowed to,’” Viloria said. “But at this point in time, we’re headed down that track and I appreciate all the work that’s been happening at our school sites in terms of pushing out all the information for students and staff.”

While the focus has been on bringing students back to the classroom, Viloria emphasized that the district has also focused on getting sports up and running. Indoor sports will be able to start while meeting COVID-19 testing requirements. Testing for football and water polo players will not be required moving forward since case rates have dropped below 7 percent. However, students will still be offered the option of testing for these sports.

The district’s visual and performing arts students have also been deeply impacted by not being able to perform together. District staffers are working to “find ways to bring our students back onto campus so that they can play together, dance together, and perform together.”

District leaders anticipate it may take a couple of weeks for students and staff to get settled after returning to campuses.

“As we get up and running with our schools in session, for in-person, it’s going to take a little time as we get everything going, to recognize places where we can change, where we can evolve,” Viloria said. “And just like the elementary did, we’ll make adjustments, we’ll tweak things, and look to allow students the opportunity to socialize safely.”

El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools have been holding in-person classes since October via a state-approved waiver.

“As we move to secondary students on campus, I want to thank everyone for all the work that they’ve put in getting the students back for those who want the option to start next week. And it’s vital that the resources remain focused on that transition,” school board president Carol Normandin said.

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