Laguna Beach USD to survey parents on schooling during pandemic

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Laguna Beach High School

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how many days elementary students would have in-person classes. These students would attend in-person classes four days per week.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District will resume distance learning on Aug. 24, following parents’ mixed reaction to a school reopening plan discussed at the school board meeting on Monday.

Laguna Beach Unified’s Board of Education directed staff to survey parents on whether they would choose a virtual academy for the entire 2020-21 school year or a hybrid trimester model that would allow some students to attend in-person classes two days per week. District administrators will directly contact parents with a link to the survey.

The hybrid trimester model has come under criticism from two camps of parents. On one end of the spectrum, some parents of sixth thru 12th graders don’t think that there is enough time in a trimester for students to grasp a year’s worth of lessons in math and foreign languages. On the other end, there are parents who believe students shouldn’t return to campuses in any format because of the coronavirus.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy on whatever plan we have because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic,” Board president Peggy Wolff said.

The Board of Education has unequivocally ruled out reopening of campuses next month, saying they’re following state and county health mandates.

“Have two teenagers myself at my own home, I fully understand the challenges around social-emotional and the ability for students to interact not just with each other but directly their teachers,” Superintendent Jason Viloria said.

Many parents have advocated for Laguna Beach school administrators to apply for waivers that would exempt certain elementary schools from the state’s reopening plan. The Orange County Health Care Agency would be responsible for approving waivers for elementary schools in its jurisdiction.

Viloria said Monday there is still no application process for school districts to apply but promised to investigate the matter and report back to the school board.

The hybrid school model created by committees of teachers, classified staff, and school site administrators was designed to allow students some in-person instruction while also observing social distancing standards in classrooms and school buses.

Elementary students would be placed in cohorts of no more than 15 students to reduce the possibilities for infection. The students would attend in-person classes four 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.

“We wanted to find a way to bring students back to campus and in staff’s opinion this is the way to do it,” Viloria said.

Orange County would have to stay off the state’s monitoring list of counties experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days before local school districts can allow students to step on campus.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Dixon offered an extensive report on how the school district would prepare schools to accept students and keep them safe.

All individuals, including staff, students, and volunteers, would have their temperatures read before being allowed to enter campuses. The district would rent shade canopies to house these test sites.

The school district has already contacted a specialized vendor to provide daily deep cleaning and sanitization of school sites.

Students in transitional kindergarten to second grade won’t be required to wear masks, Dixon said.

English teacher Dawn Hunnicutt was among the teachers who helped craft the district’s plan for distance learning this fall.

“As a teacher, I know that connectedness is the number one predictor of learning. Something had to change for fall of 2020-21 in regard to this critical piece for learning and for teachers fewer students is always desirable—even more so with distance learning,” English teacher Dawn Hunnicutt wrote.

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