UPDATED: Laguna Beach USD aims to open campuses to elementary students on Oct. 5

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El Morro Elementary School could reopen for modified classes on Oct. 5. File photo

The Laguna Beach Unified School District signaled Thursday that it could reopen El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools to students on or before Oct. 5, following the approval of a waiver by state and county health officials.

Supt. Jason Viloria said the district received a call from Orange County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau late Wednesday informing them Laguna Beach Unified’s waiver application was approved per state guidelines for managing COVID-19.

“I just want to thank [Dr. Chau’s] team,” Viloria said during a Thursday’s school board meeting. “It was actually a very good opportunity for us to have the Health Care Agency review our plan in its entirety. It provided some feedback on things that have changed since the initial guidance came out.”

The waiver impacts 915 students enrolled in 39 classes between the two campuses, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency’s website. The Board of Education plans to hold an official vote on the reopening date during a special board meeting held via Zoom at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25.

This was the only date and time all five board members were available this week, Deputy Supt. Leisa Winson wrote in an email Tuesday.

The school board previously agreed to give the administration a runway of at least five days before reopening a school to prepare buildings and staff, Viloria said. Both parents and staff members can expect site-specific instructions from their principals, Board President Peggy Wolff said.

“We would not want to reopen without going through that and having a really clear understanding,” Viloria said.

A majority of elementary school teachers support restarting in-person instruction as soon as possible, said Sarah Hopper, president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association.

Families who opted for the hybrid school model will see a staggered reopening that provides two days of core subject instruction in cohorts of 10 to 12 students, two days of rotating classes in World Language, Art, Computer Skills, Physical Education, Science lab, or academic intervention; and distance learning on Fridays.

Those families who chose a virtual academy can continue with that format, according to the reopening plan.

For now, the school board majority appears to favor keeping students in sixth to 12 grades at home until the first trimester ends in November. 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 after the first trimester ends.

In a separate survey conducted by the teacher’s union, 90% of secondary teachers want to hold off on transitioning to in-person learning until after the first trimester ends.

“The teachers and students need this time to become well-prepped at distance learning so that in the event a cohort goes down and they need to return from in-person to distance learning that they can do so smoothly,” Hopper said.

Board member Jan Vickers said she supports listening to the teachers’ recommendation for a November restart for in-person instruction of middle and high schoolers.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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