Laguna Beach elementary students return to campuses

Top of the World Elementary students wait to have their temperature read on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Hundreds of students returned to El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools on Monday, marking the first time Laguna Beach families have stepped on campuses in almost seven months.

The restart of in-person classes kicked-off for Transitional Kindergarten through second grade. On Oct. 7, students in third through fifth grade are set to join them.

Monday marks the start of a new phase of the reopening plan for the Laguna Beach Unified School District, which has been planning and deliberating for weeks on how to safely return to campuses during an unprecedented pandemic.

“I think it’s just an important component of what we do—giving some sense of normalcy, especially for our younger students,” Viloria said. “I’m proud of the work our team has done. We’ll do what we need to get out students here and keep them here.”

At Top of the World, a column of cars and school buses filed into the parking lot around 7:30 a.m. Supt. Jason Viloria, Principal Julie Hatchel, and a host of district staffers wearing masks and gloves opened car doors and guided students toward a path of color-coded arrows that directed them to check-in lines.

Toting backpacks and lunch boxes, students waited to step up to a tablet-like device that reads their body temperature.

Cpl. Cornelius Ashton, the district’s school resource officer, also greeted arriving students with a masked smile and wave.

Hatchel met many of her students in-person for the first time on Monday because she started as Top of the World’s new principal in April. She anticipated 450 students returning to campus, with more continuing their virtual academies at home.

“It is so good to see the kids back,” she said. “I’m smiling so much my cheeks hurt.”

Returning students will notice the campus has been modified to safely accommodate the smaller cohorts of 10 to 12 students. Three portable classrooms have been installed next to the school’s basketball courts. District staffers have also been working hard to install three-sided plexiglass shields on all student desks.

An instructional assistant helps a Kindergartener launch an iPad program on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The multi-purpose room has also been divided to form two additional classrooms. Instructional assistants helped a Kindergarten class launch lessons on their iPads.

Physical education teachers have been forced to get creative with how to keep students moving. They’re playing games like green light-red light and playing music for contactless dance sessions. Sports like basketball and handball are banned to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School are continuing distance learning this week. The Board of Education plans to revisit when to reopen secondary school sites for in-person instruction at its Oct. 22 meeting.

Supt. Jason Viloria opens a car door and guides an arriving student on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
A Top of the World student gets a final hug during drop-off on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
Top of the World Elementary students wait to have their body temperatures read on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
Top of the World Elementary’s marquee welcomes students back to school on Oct. 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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  1. Where is your coverage of the parents’ protest on Main Beach against continued closures of LBHS and Thurston Middle? The school board continues to ignore the majority of parent and student opinions to serve their unknown interests. It’s time to elect new people to the LBUSD School Board, who serve us, the citizens. Both Irvine and CAPO USD have both reopened their middle and high schools. Why can’t Laguna manage its reopening properly???


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