TimesOC: Teachers push back on Orange County school reopenings

Students hold signs at a rally at the Huntington Beach City School District headquarters on Tuesday.
Students hold signs at a rally at the Huntington Beach City School District headquarters on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Good morning, and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 23.

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

Orange County allowed all of its schools to reopen Tuesday for the first time since March, and there’s some pushback from teachers at schools that plan to open soon.

Out of 29 school districts in the county, 10 have announced plans to open for in-person instruction by the end of the month. Teachers employed at two districts are saying their schools are not ready to welcome students, teachers and staff back on campus safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alex Dejulio, 5, center, holds a sign during a rally at the Huntington Beach City School District headquarters.
Alex Dejulio, 5, center, holds a sign during a rally at the Huntington Beach City School District headquarters on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

On Sunday, hundreds of employees in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District protested reopening plans for Sept. 29, while teachers in the Irvine Unified School District, set to reopen Thursday, have circulated a petition that has gained more than 2,000 signatures opposing the return to campus. Reporters Sara Cardine, Howard Blume, Andrew J. Campa and Stephanie Lai have the latest.

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers union is still in negotiations with the Newport-Mesa district about its reopening guidelines. As for the Irvine Teachers Assn., it has signed off on the Irvine district’s plans.

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A woman wearing a mask passes by a tent where masks are for sale outside the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster on Aug. 5.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Little Saigon curbs COVID-19


The Vietnamese American community in Westminster, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana appears to be doing all the right things to combat COVID-19.

Reporter Anh Do wrote about how the low numbers of coronavirus cases in Orange County’s Little Saigon area are tied to cultural habits and consistent behavior. She talked with Dr. Quynh Kieu, who has a three-part theory to explain the community’s success against the virus.

Testing. Luck. And respect.

“The Vietnamese are very compliant — and very consistent,” said Kieu, a Fountain Valley pediatrician, adding that “in many families, they have a representative member who does the outside tasks, say someone who runs errands on behalf of their kids and the grandparents, instead of each person going their own way. They’re consciously avoiding risks.”

Arush Mehrotra stands at the Irvine Civic Center on Sept. 14.
Arush Mehrotra stands at the Irvine Civic Center on Sept. 14. The University High School student created a platform for teenagers to tackle social justice issues.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

16-year-old launches nonprofit


With distance learning, Arush Mehrotra found it difficult to form a school club without being able to be on the physical campus of his Irvine high school.

The 16-year-old University High School student decided to do the next best thing from home: start a nonprofit.

Reporter Vera Castaneda featured Arush, who launched the O.C. Justice Project to give teenagers a platform to tackle social justice issues locally. Arush teamed up with classmate Krishna Khawani to make the O.C. Justice Project a 501 (c)3 organization.

“Our mission, just broadly speaking, is to inspire my generation, the younger generation, to care about the issues that threaten the democratic ideals,” Arush said.

The nonprofit has grown, with 41 members and chapter presidents in seven high schools in Orange County.

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Surviving cancer — and art class


During her battle with lung cancer, 72-year-old Sylvia Valdez took up something she was never good at in elementary school: art.

“I would hide my artwork from the nuns and my fellow students,” Valdez said, “because I could not draw at all.”

The Garden Grove resident has survived cancer and now art class.

With a new lease on life, Valdez is not afraid to draw anymore. She credits the holistic approach to health in a St. Joseph Hospital cancer wellness program, which includes art classes.

The response letter sent to Nancy Mikaelian Madey 50 years ago from Vietnam soldier Michael Conrad.
The response letter sent to Nancy Mikaelian Madey 50 years ago from Vietnam soldier Michael Conrad. Next to it is Conrad’s funeral card.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

More O.C. stories

— Fifty years after writing a letter to a Vietnam War solider, Huntington Beach resident Nancy Mikaelian Madey hears back from his widow — and befriends her.

— The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $7.5-billion budget for fiscal 2020-21, and the amount of money allocated for law enforcement compared to that of community services has angered many residents.

— The second story in a three-part series called “Improving Healthcare Access for Cambodians and Vietnamese” examines the lack of mental healthcare services available to Vietnamese and Cambodians in Orange County.

— A 3-year-old boy riding his bicycle died after being hit by a woman driving a pickup truck in Orange.

— The Pacific Symphony’s 2020-21 season, slated to run from Thursday to June 13 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, will take place in 2021-22.

Melissa Seidemann, a two-time Olympic women’s water polo gold medalist, has been hired to coach the Corona del Mar High School girls’ water polo team.

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.

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

See you Friday morning.