Laguna Beach USD will seek state waiver for elementary schools to resume in-person classes

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El Morro Elementary School is one of the campuses that could reopen if the California Department of Public Health approves a waiver sought by the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District will apply for a state waiver that would allow its elementary schools to resume in-person classes before Sept. 22.

The Board of Education on Thursday directed administrators to apply for the waiver that if approved by the California Department of Public Health would provide the relief sought by many parents at El Morro and Top of the World Elementary schools.

Orange County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau received confirmation from state health officials on Monday that Orange County was on track on Sept. 8 to enter into a less restrictive tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s color-coded system for monitoring county’s COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a statement. If Orange County meets metrics for the so-called “Red Tier” at that time, there will be a 14-day wait for all public schools to resume in-person instruction, which could happen on Sept. 22.

School Board President Peggy Wolff said she thought the waiver would be beneficial, even if there’s a chance it could be redundant on Sept. 22.

Last month, the school board commissioned a survey of elementary parents to gauge their interest in pursuing a state waiver. Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston wrote in an email Friday that 79% of elementary parents who completed the survey supported the district applying for the waiver.

Both the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association and the California School Employees Association’s local chapter have endorsed the school district’s pursuit of a waiver for its elementary schools.

“The health and safety of all students and staff must be the first priority and the guiding principle in reopening schools for in-person instruction,” said Sarah Hopper, president of the local teacher’s union. “Governor Newsom was absolutely right when he said he doesn’t believe anyone should be forced to put their lives or health at risk. When we physically return to campus it needs to be planned and deliberate with safety and public health at the forefront of all decision-making and with the involvement of educators and parents.”

At this time, there is no waiver for reopening middle and high schools. However, the school board directed administrators to survey students in sixth through 12 grades about where they’d like to return to in-person instruction before or after the first trimester ends in November. Wolff said the results of this survey, in addition to feedback from parents and staff, would help her and fellow board members make a decision about when to resume in-person classes.

Board member James Kelly strongly advocated that teachers be allowed finish the trimester before making any changes to class formats. Hopper agreed with them.

“Our teachers need to have that flow of continuity in order to provide students with a curriculum to provide them with grades,” she said.

Laguna Beach Unified will submit its waiver application via the Orange County Health Care Agency, which will forward it to state health officials for approval. Supt. Jason Viloria said state officials promised an application turnaround of no more than 14 days.

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