Letter: Closed Schools Call Us to Higher Purpose

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My grandparents were active in our local public schools during the Great Depression, and until my uncle graduated from Laguna Beach High School and joined the Navy in World War II.   

My classmates and I were student volunteers at Thurston and LBHS during the 1960’s, organizing student support for the civil rights movement nationally, making student voices heard locally.

Our town has always supported LBUSD during national and local crisis. Perhaps my 1970 LBHS classmates can celebrate our 50th reunion year by volunteering to support school community until schools re-open.   

If needed, we hope Superintendent will call on those able to run essential errands or perform necessary tasks for sheltered LBUSD families with special needs. From home we also could support teachers in production of on-line learning content.

Most of all, we all hope school closure will end sooner not later, so recovery from shutdown can begin. Until then, experience teaches that in emergencies an informed public is an empowered public.

Transparency about how school closing came about, and how it will be ended, enables the community to understand and respond in a civic minded way as events unfold. 

Here is a chronology:

February 26: The national press reported CDC website advisory that unknown source COVID-19 cases were confirmed in California, community spread “when not if,” recommending communities prepare for disruptions, including school closing. 

March 11: Many expected emergency session in conjunction with regular School Board meeting, instead Board action was limited to Superintendent report advising LBUSD to wait for state and county to direct local pandemic response. No action not already planned or taken recommended.

March 12:  Board President and Superintendent appeared to deviate from March 11 recommendation without Board authorization by posting LBUSD website directive appearing to adopt statewide public health guidance as LBUSD policy.

March 13:  In rapid reversal of March 12 website post, LBUSD issues press release announcing Board met in special session, declared emergency, delegated Board powers to Superintendent, including power to act without Board or parent input to open/close schools and adopt tele-school curriculum. 

After the Superintendent’s report at March 11 meeting, Dee Perry was only Board member even alluding to lack of student social distancing for students based on the February 26 CDC report and what we knew at that time.

Trying not to alarm parents or students, Perry praised LBUSD participation in the Patriot’s Day parade, but noted students were “very crowded” together throughout parade. 

Students in parade were not in classrooms exempt from state social distancing protocols.  Still, Board ignored implications of Perry’s signaling on March 11 that local health protocols were lacking. In contrast, the school board gave board member James Kelly the floor on March 11 to tout his vast knowledge of CDC programs, but he was silent on lack of LBUSD response to ominous February 26 CDC advisory.

For more than a decade we’ve advocated local control as best practices, as contemplated and encouraged by state education code, instead of waiting for staff and Board to be spoon fed by state bureaucracy.

We could sure use a state or county “tele-schooling” program now. Or, if school closure is extended, will LBUSD staff stand up a comprehensive K-12 home school curriculum?     

We have no choice, must work together, respect not punish diversity of opinions, and exercise local control to help students and families at risk. Thankfully, we have resources take our fate into our own hands more than many other communities even more impacted but less fortunate.     

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach 

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