Students return to Laguna Beach High School, Thurston after a year of COVID

A Laguna Beach High School student has his temperature read before entering campus on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Lucky Hauer said it felt strange to wake up to an alarm, get dressed, and drive herself to Laguna Beach High School on Wednesday.

After a year of distance learning, the 18-year-old said she is used to rolling out of bed and logging onto Zoom to attend classes. Hauer visited a few friends during her senior year but she’s been disconnected from most of her peers.

“It’s different because you go from seeing kids you’ve been with since Kindergarten to not seeing them anymore—it’s sad,” Hauer said.

As an Associated Study Body member, Hauer was excited to return to the social atmosphere of high school.

Hauer joined about 300 other high students in return to their campus on Wednesday. About 250 students also returned to Thurston Middle School, Principal Joe Vidal said. The restart of in-person classes was permitted under health guidelines after Orange County entered the less restrictive red tier of the state’s plan to manage COVID-19.

Another cohort of about 300 students will return to the High School on Thursday. Going forward students will either be on campus Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays depending on their cohort. All students will have distance learning on Fridays.

Mask-wearing students lined up around 8:30 a.m. at assigned campus entry points to have their body temperatures read. At one point a district staffer walked over to remind a pair of boys to pull masks up over their noses.

Laguna Beach High School Principal Jason Allemann, Supt. Jason Viloria, and school resource officer Fred Yeilding were among the staff members who greeted students at a screening station at Artists Theater. They were joined by members of the Laguna Beach cheer squad ruffling their pom-poms.

“You just can’t beat the energy of a high school campus with kids on it,” Allemann said.

Now in his fourth year as principal, Allemann said the reopening is bittersweet after taking stock of life events students have missed due to COVID-19. In August, freshmen were unable to experience a right of passage when they started high school. The Class of 2020 was unable to enjoy a commencement and it’s still uncertain what graduation festivities will look like for current seniors.

“The thing I’m most proud about all of our classes is their resiliency,” Allemann said.

The Laguna Beach Unified School District established cohorts last year with the goal of limiting the potential spread of COVID-19 on campuses. Currently, teachers can have no more than 12 students in a classroom, allowing students to sit four to six feet apart. As some students sit in classrooms, half of their classmates watch a livestream from home.

English teacher Dawn Hunnicutt welcomed a handful of students to her modified classroom on Wednesday morning. A plastic shield is mounted to her desk and at the front of the classroom a tripod is fitted with a small camera broadcasting her writing lecture.

About 200 high school students have chosen to continue in a virtual academy for the rest of the academic year, Allemann said.

District officials are planning to return to a traditional semester system for the 2021-22 academic year, pending approval from state and county health officials.

A Laguna Beach High School student has her temperature read before entering campus on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
Laguna Beach High School students line up to have their temperatures read before entering campus on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
Dawn Hunnicutt, an English teacher at Laguna Beach High School, welcomed students to her classroom on Wednesday after a year of distance learning. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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