Anneliese Schools reopen to students with state waiver

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An Anneliese student hugs an alpaca that’s part of the school’s animal program in 2017. File photo

Anneliese Schools of Laguna Beach recently reopened two campuses to students after obtaining waivers from state and county health officials.

The waivers were approved Sept. 6 by the California Department of Public Health to the elation of parents who have helped guide their children through distancing learning since March. Anneliese’s administration reopened classrooms in phases over three days last week, using an extensive list of state-approved protocols aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“It was a countdown for us,” Leisa Schimmelpfennig, executive director of Anneliese Schools. “The parents were over the moon. Even the neighbors were commenting how good it felt to hear the kids’ voices.”

The Willowbrook Campus on Laguna Canyon Road has 152 students enrolled in Kindergarten through sixth grade. The Manzanita Campus near Laguna Beach High School has 46 students enrolled in Transitional Kindergarten through third grade. Both of these campuses have been available for emergency childcare since late March, said Erin Sparkuhl, general counsel for Anneliese Schools.

The Aliso Campus serves nursery to Kindergarten age children and has been open during the pandemic because it operates under a pre-school license that’s exempt from the state’s school closure order.

Anneliese’s campuses are among more than 100 private schools in Orange County that have been cleared to open by the state and Orange County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau.

“We want to create an environment that helps children develop healthy resilience, social relationships, creativity, and academic skills with as little interruption and safely as possible,” Schimmelpfennig wrote in a letter to Chau. “We want to support our parents so that they can focus on providing for their families. We do not take our responsibility lightly and are continuously researching and consulting with experts to confirm that our decisions are made responsibly, with the most current information available.”

A survey of Anneliese’s parents showed about 80% supported restarting in-person instruction, Schimmelpfennig said.

Anneliese has sectioned its student population into cohorts of no more than 15 students who stay together throughout the day, including lunch and recess, according to its reopening plan. Health officials have said the cohorts are essential to prevent closing an entire school in case a student or staffer tests positive.

Parents are not allowed on campus and must stay in their cars during drop-off and pick-up. All staff and students are required to have their temperature checked with a touches thermometer before they can enter a campus building, according to the school’s reopening plan.

Under state health guidelines, Anneliese requires students in third grade and older to wear face coverings. Students in Kindergarten to second grade are strongly encouraged to wear masks while at school but ultimately its parents’ decision, Schimmelpfennig said.

“If it means keeping people safe and keeping kids in school I’m all for it,” she said.

All parents also have to certify on a regular basis that their child has not been in contact with anyone who has been sick or diagnosed with COVID-19 for 14 days; nobody in their household has been symptomatic for 14 days; the child and their household members have not traveled by plane, train, or ship in the previous 14 days; and the child has observed physical distancing when encountering people outside of their cohort.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District applied for a waiver on Sept. 8 for El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools. Supt. Jason Viloria said he expects a decision within 14 days of the filing date.

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