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Rumors about transfer students lead some Newport Beach parents to keep kids home from school

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Students at Newport Coast Elementary School work on computer coding after school in 2016.
(File Photo)

Some Newport Coast Elementary School parents are keeping their children home amid demands that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District examine new transfer students for coronavirus infection.

Mother Mahtab Thorson wrote to Supt. Fred Navarro “on behalf of many very concerned parents [about] students entering midyear.”

Her letter Thursday called on the district to test transfer students and then retest them within 28 days of a first negative test. She wrote that new students from foreign countries affected by the contagion, as well as the United States, which has multiple cases, should be examined.

Orange County officials declared a local health emergency Wednesday in response to the coronavirus that has infected more than 81,000 people worldwide, including 59 cases in the United States.
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“We feel that this is a minor inconvenience which is far outweighed by the extreme risk to the health and lives of our community and children,” she wrote.

She suggested possible legal action, including an “injunction against the school district in allowing new students in until such time as mandatory protocols are put into place regarding testing of the coronavirus.”

Newport Coast parent Andrew Sassani kept his second- and fourth-graders home Thursday and planned to do so again Friday. He said several other parents would do the same.

District spokeswoman Annette Franco said she didn’t have information on the number of student absences at Newport Coast Elementary on Thursday or Friday.

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Sassani urged the district, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill and U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) to advocate for medically clearing new students before they are enrolled.

It’s “likely that these children/families come from some coronavirus-affected area of the world, with financial means of quickly picking up and moving to Newport Coast,” Sassani said.

He said in an interview that word had spread among parents that several new students were bound for Newport Coast Elementary this week, though he did not know the origin of the information.

The Daily Pilot could not verify whether the district is admitting any midyear students — or their nations of origin — to the school on Ridge Park Road.

Franco said privacy laws prohibit her from sharing anything related to specific students.

“If we become aware that students enrolled in our district have traveled from affected regions, we work closely with the healthcare agencies and provide families with the guidelines from expert health agencies and work confidentially and with compassion to support our students,” Franco said.

Some parents suggested on social media that the potential students were from China, where the majority of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases and deaths have occurred.

But Franco cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

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“Our district is committed to observing everyone’s rights, as it is related to students being free from discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, immigration status, ethnic group identification or where they have traveled,” she said.

Sassani said new families are indeed welcome, but “I think the world is almost at war with this coronavirus” and that it doesn’t matter to him where the students are from.

He said asking for a doctor’s note before joining a school “is not hysterical.”

Newport-Mesa has no reported links to the virus, and health officials have said there are no current cases in Orange County or evidence in the area of person-to-person transmission.

One patient who had traveled from the coronavirus epicenter in Wuhan, China, was diagnosed in January and has recovered, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

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Updates:
12:58 PM, Feb. 28, 2020: This article was originally published at 12:03 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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