Laguna Beach USD OKs reopening dates for elementary schools

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El Morro Elementary School is one of two Laguna Beach school sites that will reopen for in-person classes on Oct. 5. File Photo

The Laguna Beach Unified School District will reopen its elementary schools for in-person instruction starting Oct. 5, following a school board vote on Friday.

School board members voted 4-1, Board Clerk Carol Normandin dissented, to approve the reopening dates for in-person learning at El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools. The action provides much-needed relief for parents advocating for students’ academic, social, and emotional needs.

Transitional Kindergarten through second-grade students enrolled in a hybrid school model will return to campus on Oct. 5. Students in grades three through five will join them on Oct. 7.

Families who selected a virtual academy for this school year will continue to keep their students at home for distance learning.

Normandin split with her colleagues after asking if the school district could require all students and staff to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to classrooms.

Supt. Jason Viloria said district administrators were advised by its legal team and the Orange County Health Care Agency that such a mandate would not withstand legal challenges.

There were also substantial fiscal and logistical challenges with the proposal. District officials estimated it would cost $100,000 to test every elementary school student for COVID-19 just once. It could also take up to seven business days for the district’s vendor to staff queues for voluntary testing, Viloria said.

Normandin said she could not support the reopening plan without such testing measures in place.

Laguna Beach Unified previously offered to test its staff. So far, about 170 staffers, including 50% of certificated employees and 40% of classified have taken them up on the offer.

Both of the district’s labor unions have endorsed the reopening plan.

On the topic of facilities, Assistant Supt. Jeff Dixon said the district has deployed 200 plexiglass desk shields at both elementary schools. Another 1,000 desk shields were ordered weeks ago and are scheduled to arrive next week.

School principals will reach out to parents with site-specific instructions for drop-off and pick-up, screening for symptoms at home, and more.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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