A handful of Laguna Beach parents blasted the Laguna Beach Unified School District at the recent school board meeting for failing to schedule a public discussion about the next steps for reopening its middle and high schools.
Orange County’s return to the state’s most-restrictive tier for managing the pandemic prevented students and teachers from returning to campus as scheduled on Nov. 23. The agenda for the Nov. 19 school board meeting was posted on the afternoon of Nov. 16—hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was hitting the “emergency brake” on the state’s reopening plan.
Supt. Jason Viloria said Orange County Health Care Agency officials were still sorting through the governor’s order when he contacted them on Nov. 16. By this time, the school board agenda had been posted and couldn’t be added to without violating the Brown Act, district leaders said.
District officials have since learned that January would be the earliest possible time for a restart of in-person classes at Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School.
“I’m hopeful that things will change for the better and we may potentially have the opportunity to reopen before that but the data and the numbers I’ve been made aware of from the Health Care Agency has been at the earliest five weeks, which would put us in January,” Viloria said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, school district staffers have not scheduled a special board meeting to discuss the next steps for how they will reopen the secondary schools.
The heated public comments arrived during Board President Peggy Wolff’s final meeting in her term on the school board. As president, Wolff often reiterated that school administrators and board members were working hard and rising to meet the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges.
“I’m sorry for the disappointment felt by all the families,” Wolff said while choking up. “For those of you who may not know I have a senior at home so we too feel it. But I just think as a collective, if this county does not change its behavior and we make some protocol changes we won’t be able to open. We need the citizenry of Orange County to help us.”
Laguna Beach parent Roddy Teeple said it appeared the school board was hiding behind the Brown Act instead of taking responsibility for its decision to keep students home until after the first trimester’s end.
“We clearly have an urgent issue, which is the well-being of not just these children but our community,” Teeple said. “And I would argue the need for the special and emergency meeting given the news just came down would be a requirement of this body and to not do so would be negligent.”
The discussion boiled over when the school board considered extending a contract with Rutan & Tucker LP to defeat an appellate case filed by board member Dee Perry over claims she endured discrimination and retaliation from district leaders.
“Dee Perry’s lawsuit has been dismissed by a judge… three times and she’s now appealing and wasting taxpayer dollars and all of our time yet again,” Board Clerk Carol Normandin said. “We would like nothing more than to focus only on the students and not to continue to defend the fact that the district is being sued.”
Laguna Beach parent Candice Dartez she and fellow parents aren’t interested in hearing about lawsuits right now.
“We’re concerned about our actual children so I thought this meeting was going to be about our children but clearly it’s not,” she said. “So maybe we should schedule another special meeting with you guys that takes in the concerns of our community and what we’re here for, which is the education of our children.”
Laguna Beach parent Patti Compton argued the community is in a crisis with middle and high schoolers still out of school.
“The change to this more restrictive tier was not unanticipated,” she said. “It didn’t come out of nowhere. We all thought this was going to happen. We all anticipated this. And that’s why we were advocating for our children to get back to school earlier so we would be to stay in school at this time.”
El Morro and Top of the World elementary schools can continue in-person instruction under a waiver obtained from state health officials.