TimesOC: Some Orange County schools are back in class

Students work inside a makeshift classroom  at St. Joachim Catholic School in Costa Mesa.
Students work inside a makeshift classroom on Wednesday at St. Joachim Catholic School in Costa Mesa. The private school received approval to reopen for in-person learning early.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Good afternoon, and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

My name is David Carrillo Peñaloza, the author of the TimesOC newsletter and an editor for Los Angeles Times Community News.

The weekend has arrived in Orange County, and many students, parents, teachers and staff are counting the days until schools can reopen for in-person learning.

While most county schools are on track to return to campus on Sept. 22, more than 100 schools applied for waivers to open earlier — and most received approval to proceed.

Reporter Sara Cardine and photographer Don Leach covered the second day of this week’s reopening of St. Joachim Catholic School, a private school in Costa Mesa. St. Joachim was one of 131 schools to get the OK from Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau and the California Department of Public Health to offer kindergarten-through-sixth-grade in-class instruction in the county before Sept. 22.

Students work on a project in Isabella Buonanoce’s second-grade class with precautions in place Wednesday.
Students work on a project in Isabella Buonanoce’s second-grade class with precautions in place Wednesday on the second day of reopening at St. Joachim Catholic School.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

At St. Joachim on Wednesday, Cardine wrote that instructors checked the temperatures of students, and most kids wore masks and sat at desks fitted with plexiglass dividers and spaced 6 feet apart. The students appeared ready to learn.

For 9-year-old Jack Kelly, 179 days had passed since he last stepped inside a classroom.

“This Tuesday, when [school] opened, he was up at 6 a.m., dressed and ready to go,” Sue Kelly said of her son, Jack. “His smile was huge — he was very eager and very happy to see his friends.”

Orange County Environmental Justice project director Enrique Valencia pictured in his office on Aug. 15.
Orange County Environmental Justice project director Enrique Valencia, pictured in his office on Aug. 15, 2019, shows findings of lead soil testing on a Santa Ana street.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Toxic lead problem in Santa Ana, report says

Enrique Valencia, the project director of the Orange County Environmental Justice organization, has raised the alarm to Santa Ana: There are high levels of lead toxicity in the city’s low-income and predominately Latino neighborhoods.

Valencia said he has the soil samples to prove it.

Reporter Ben Brazil featured Valencia, who over the last three years teamed up with Santa Ana-based community group Jóvenes Cultivando Cambios and Alana LeBron, a UC Irvine assistant professor of public health and Chicano/Latino studies, and analyzed more than 1,500 soil samples from more than 500 locations in Santa Ana. The highest lead level found was 2,687 parts per million, with the average soil sample at 123.1 ppm.

Anything above 80 ppm in a residential area is hazardous to health, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

“This is of the utmost urgency,” said Valencia, adding that he has offered to help the city but hasn’t heard back. “We are sheltering in places that may have high levels of lead toxicity. We are doing everything out of our homes, so we are confined to places that may be contaminated, and that’s especially concerning for our children ... This is a toxin that is dangerous to humans at any age. We can’t afford to ignore the science anymore.”

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Chapman University moves closer to restoring county’s first desegregated school

Chapman University recently closed escrow on the Lydia D. Killefer School in Orange, where in 1944 it became the first county school to voluntarily desegregate, three years before the landmark Mendez v. Westminster.

Brazil wrote that the private university plans to renovate the former schoolhouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some residents want the building to be a community center or civil rights museum, giving the public access to the former Spanish Colonial Revival schoolhouse.

“I don’t want to project more than we are actually able to do — the building is very small,” said Harold Hewitt, Chapman’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We intend to put at least three researchers with labs into it, so it would be very difficult for us to dedicate a substantial portion of the building to open community use.”

Vietnamese and Cambodians face multiple barriers in healthcare

Vietnamese and Cambodians have had a presence in the U.S. for almost half a century, with more than 200,000 of them calling Orange County home.

But to this day, reporter Agnes Constante wrote that these Southeast Asian Americans continue to struggle with social inequities, including access to culturally sensitive healthcare.

The first story in a three-part series called “Improving Healthcare Access for Cambodians and Vietnamese” looked into the barriers Vietnamese and Cambodians face seeking medical care in this country.

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In other Orange County news:

— The California Supreme Court has denied a petition filed by the Orange County Board of Education and others to overturn Gov. Gavin Newsom’s authority to keep schools closed for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

— The Orange County district attorney’s office has charged a sheriff’s deputy with filing a false police report after the deputy allegedly took a credit card from a theft suspect in San Clemente and gave it to her son.

— A body-worn camera program is coming to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

— This year’s Trans Pride OC will be a virtual experience, with the three-day event starting Saturday.

— The Santa Ana Zoo has reopened for the first time since March.

— Huntington Beach’s Main Street in downtown will continue to be closed off to vehicular traffic.

Orange County's Best: TimesOC's Readers' Choice 2020

Readers can vote on their best products and services in Orange County at latimes.com/timesoc/voting. Voting ends Sept. 30.

Get in touch

Have any questions or suggestions for the TimesOC newsletter? Email me at david.carrillo@latimes.com.

If you want to sign up for the newsletter that is delivered to your inbox every Wednesday and Friday, visit latimes.com/oc-newsletter.

You can also follow me on Twitter @ByDCP and tweet me questions.

Enjoy your weekend and see you next week.

A cotton-top tamarin monkey stares at visitors as he rests on his perch at the Santa Ana Zoo on Thursday.
A cotton-top tamarin monkey stares at visitors as he rests on his perch at the Santa Ana Zoo on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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