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Laguna Beach Unified School District to begin 2020-21 school year with distance learning

Laguna Beach Unified School District school board members listens to public comments on July 31.
Laguna Beach Unified School District school board members listen to public comments read by board president Peggy Wolff at an emergency board meeting on Friday, July 31.
(Screenshot by Lilly Nguyen)

School will be back in session for the Laguna Beach Unified School District on Aug. 24, but students will not immediately be present in the classroom when summer ends.

After directing district staff to survey parents on options for the upcoming school year, the Laguna Beach Unified School District board of trustees voted 4-1, with board member Dee Perry dissenting, to begin the upcoming school year with distance learning, which will continue through the end of the first trimester.

Parents were surveyed on what they would choose between two programs for the school year — a virtual academy or a hybrid trimester model that would allow students to attend in-person classes two days a week in cohorts of no more than 15 with asynchronous learning scheduled for students on Fridays.

Families that choose a virtual academy would be able to transition to the hybrid model at the end of each trimester, if space permits.

Perry said schools should start the year closed, but she didn’t want to commit to the vote of implementing the programs in the event that Orange County is permitted to reopen its schools and said the vote would be brought back before the board.

"[Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau] says there’s a 14-day window and that they will let us know then if things change, and I know Dr. Viloria can bring it back, but it’s not giving anybody a sense of security if it can be brought back or if it’s a trimester,” Perry said. “It’s just too confusing, I think.”

Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Jason Viloria talks about current guidance on athletics.
Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Jason Viloria talks about current guidance on athletics during an emergency school board meeting on Friday, July 31.
(Screenshot by Lilly Nguyen)

In written correspondence to the school district, parents advocated both for and against the hybrid trimester model, with some arguing that their students wouldn’t be able to learn a full year’s worth of coursework or Advanced Placement coursework in a single trimester.

The district said it would be exploring the possibility of pursuing a waiver that would allow for elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. The district has two such schools: El Morro and Top of the World Elementary Schools.

Supt. Jason Viloria said there is still no language available on the waivers or indication when that information will be received by the district.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said schools in 32 counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list, which includes Orange County, will not be able to reopen until each county is able to stay off of the state’s watchlist for 14 consecutive days.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 418 new cases and 14 new deaths on Friday, pushing the cumulative totals of both to 36,196 and 618 respectively. Of those cases, 133 of the cumulative case totals in the county were in Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach Unified Supt. Jason Viloria answers a question online.
Laguna Beach Unified Supt. Jason Viloria answers a question on what would be done in the event a student would want to drop a class.
(Screenshot by Lilly Nguyen)

Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said Friday that about 77% of parent respondents for elementary students wanted the hybrid trimester model once the district would be able to provide it while 23% opted for the virtual academy. About 80% of parent respondents for secondary students wanted the hybrid, while 20% wanted virtual.

District staff said if schools in Orange County are permitted to reopen prior to the end of the first trimester, the board would reconvene.

Neighboring district Newport-Mesa Unified also will start classes on Aug. 24 online, with plans to reopen schools when it becomes feasible and an option for families to keep their students at home.

Assistant Supt. Jeff Dixon, in a presentation Monday, went over health and safety plans.

Students in third to 12th grade would be required to wear masks or face coverings at all times on campus or in classrooms. Staff and visitors will also be required to wear a mask or face covering. Individuals would be screened for their temperatures and custodians would be trained on cleaning procedures for COVID-19.

Students in transitional kindergarten to second grade would not be required to wear face coverings or masks.

“Student safety and staff safety have to be paramount. I really don’t want to lose a student or staff member to COVID on my watch here in this district, and I would assume none of us would want that to happen,” Viloria said. “We’re trying to err as much on the side of caution and safety as we can.”

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