Laguna Beach parents protest continued closure of secondary school campuses

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Parents hold up signs during a protest at Main Beach on Oct. 2. Photo courtesy of Patti Compton.

As the district approached its elementary school reopening date, about 40 parents held a protest Oct. 2 at Main Beach to air their grievances against the Board of Education’s decision to keep Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School closed. Instead of returning to campuses, middle and high schoolers continued their distance learning this week.

School board candidates Amy Kramer and Sheri Morgan were among the parents who attended the protest. 

“I am extremely disappointed in the school board’s decision to delay the reopening of our secondary schools,” Laguna Beach parent Celeste Gilles said in a prepared statement. “This district has had the time and the resources to develop a plan to return to school, but they have failed at every level to make that happen.”

On Sept. 22, all Orange County schools were permitted to reopen because the County had remained in the Red Tier of state’s color-coded system for two weeks. The decision to reopen schools is made by local school districts.

For now, the school board majority appears to favor keeping students in sixth to 12 grades at home until the first trimester ends on Nov. 20. Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said a district-commissioned survey of secondary school students on possible return dates received feedback from 786 students, a response rate of 52%.

Nearly 60% of Thurston Middle School students who completed the survey said they want to reopen shortly after Orange County is permitted to do so. Meanwhile, 54% of Laguna Beach High School students said they want to wait until the end of first trimester.

In a separate survey conducted by the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association, 90% of secondary teachers want to wait until after first trimester ends. Teachers highlighted that students are just starting to settle into the virtual trimester format and a return to campus could disrupt that flow, teacher’s union president Sara Hopper said. Also, if a cohort is forced to quarantine at home, a mid-trimester switch back to distance learning would be unnecessarily disruptive for students and teachers, she added.

In neighboring Newport-Mesa Unified School District, the Board of Education was scheduled to hold a special meeting Thursday on whether to keep its secondary schools on the distance learning format through Dec. 17, The Newport-Mesa’s teacher union circulated letters in the school community to share unresolved issues pertaining to safety measures, equipment, and potential loss of instructional time.

However, parents holding up signs at Friday’s protest were resolute in their belief that all Laguna Beach schools need to reopen for in-person classes.

Laguna Beach parent Janelle Naess said she wants to see her two high school students in class now.

“The student who want to go back should be able to be on campus five days a week, in their cohorts, for their two classes,” Naess said. “The teachers should be able to live stream their class to those students who would like to stay home.”

Laguna Beach parent Candice Dartez said middle and high school students’ mental health will suffer because of the school board’s decision to delay reopening their

“We have a unique opportunity in Laguna Beach since we are such a small school district to something really incredible and we are not,” Dartez said.

The Board of Education plans to revisit when to reopen secondary school sites for in-person instruction at its Oct. 22 meeting.

School board candidates Amy Kramer and Sheri Morgan hold signs during a parent protest at Main Beach on Oct. 2. Photo courtesy of Patti Compton.
A parent holds up signs during a protest at Main Beach on Oct. 2. Photo courtesy of Patti Compton.
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