Laguna Beach school board to review plan for online learning during pandemic

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El Morro Elementary School will join Laguna Beach Unified school in resuming distance learning on Aug. 24. File Photo

The Laguna Beach Unified School District Board will hold a special meeting Monday to review school administrators’ plan for a phased reopening of classes during the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Laguna Beach parents and students have been told distance learning will resume Aug. 24 in light of state guidelines for reopening schools in the era of COVID-19.

Superintendent Jason Viloria has said the Laguna Beach Unified School District will take its cues on when and how to reopen from the California Department of Health. On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom said schools in counties that are on California’s COVID-19 Monitoring List cannot open their campuses for in-person instruction until their county has come off the list for 14 consecutive days. Orange County is on the monitoring list and it’s unclear when that status might change.

In light of this reality, Laguna Beach Unified published a report Friday outlining its phased plan to reopen schools safely and in compliance with state guidelines. At Laguna Beach Unified’s Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Board Clerk Carol Normandin read several comments from parents asking for more live instruction this fall than there was after the pandemic’s outset in March.

“We need our school leaders to give our wonderful teachers specific guidelines on the amount of hours that are required for daily live instruction,” one commenter wrote. “Our kids are needing daily live instruction for all core subjects in order for them to learn, observe the material, and not fall behind.”

Laguna Beach school officials don’t require commenters to provide their names with their written communication.

In Phase One of the proposed plan, elementary teachers would be assigned their regular groups of 20 to 25 students daily live instruction by teachers and support staff would be

included in the Monday to Friday schedule.

The proposed elementary schedule includes a virtual morning class led by a teacher who is assisted by support staff. After a lunch period, there would be small group instruction, individual activity, or an encore class in music, world language, or other academic subjects.

Altogether, this would include 240 minutes or four hours of daily instruction, according to the report.

For middle and high school students, district staffers are recommending a trimester system where students take two courses at a time, or six courses over the school year. From Monday to Friday, students would have a virtual class led by a teacher followed by a break. They would then have a second teacher-led class, individual classwork or additional support, and an optional yearlong online class for Associated Student Body, leadership, and other subjects.

“This model is recommended to allow students to focus on two courses at a time and allow teachers time to build relationships with smaller groups of students,” the report states.

The trimester system got an icy reception from some parents during Thursday’s school board meeting.

“The trimester plan that is all but approved is not in the best interest of our students’ social-emotional and educational well-being,” Terri Meisberger wrote in a public comment. “Our students had to adopt the calendar change, block schedule, and project-based learning. Now we’re doing a 180 and we’re having classes over the Christmas break. I thought we changed our calendar so students wouldn’t have to be stressed over the break.”

Laguna Beach school administrators have also prepared a hybrid school model in preparation for the day that Orange County schools are allowed to reopen.

Elementary students will be placed in cohorts of no more than 15 students to reduce the possibilities for infection. The students would attend in-person classes two days per week. All elementary students would stay home on Fridays to complete individual classwork.

“Cohorts are an important aspect of the reopening plan,” the report states. “If cohort interaction with other cohorts is minimized and a student or staff member contracts COVID, the exposed cohort members and staff would require quarantine and engage in distance learning only during that period of time, but the entire school would not need to shut down.”

Parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back to campus can choose to keep their students in the virtual classroom.

Middle and high school students would be placed in similar cohorts for two-courses trimesters with in-person learning two days per week. On alternating days they would be assigned individual classwork to be completed at home. All secondary students would have individual coursework on Fridays.

Angela Harris, a parent of Thurston and El Morro students, said in a phone interview Friday that she’s torn between feeling to protect her kids by keeping them at home and concern that they’re not getting a quality academic experience.

“I don’t think it’s ideal for any child to be stuck in front of a computer for several hours a day,” Harris said.

She also noted that like many households in Laguna, her family finds their household getting loud with three kids to be in separate virtual classrooms while both parents trying to work from home.

“I’m more concerned about the emotional state of going to school in these circumstances,” Harris said. “Getting out of the car wearing a mask, seeing a teacher in a face shield, and not being able to play with your friends as you like, impacts the usual flow of school.”

The Board of Education is scheduled to meet via Zoom at 10:30 a.m. on Monday. To view the meeting, visit lbusd.org/board/board-meetings/live-board-meeting. Click here to submit your written public comments to the school board.

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