Laguna Beach parents protest for reopening of secondary schools

Candice Dartez, right,  demonstrates with other parents to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School.
Candice Dartez, right, who has a high school senior and an eighth-grader, demonstrates with other parents to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As the Laguna Beach Unified School District prepares to welcome back its elementary school students for in-person learning as part of a hybrid model next week, parents with children in the district’s secondary schools are wondering why their kids cannot go back yet.

Several dozen parents demonstrated at Main Beach, holding signs for the steady stream of motorists passing by on South Coast Highway to take notice.

Indeed, the message was received, as the crowd roared its approval with each honk of a horn.

Celeste Gilles, 48, who has two sons at Laguna Beach High School, held up a sign that said, “School board report card grade = F.”

“Capo Unified is our neighbor, they have 47,000 kids in their district, and they figured it out,” Gilles said. “They’re going back to school in another week. They’re going back to school, I believe, on Oct. 13.

“Our district of less than 3,000 kids, they couldn’t figure it out. I just think we’re better than that. We could do better. We have the resources here, and we could do better.”

Patti Compton, 52, who has two sons at Laguna Beach High School, echoed Gilles’ sentiments, saying, “The high school is maybe 1,200 kids. These are not big schools, and they should be able to open.”

A district survey of secondary students showed that roughly 60% of Thurston Middle School students said that they wanted to return to school when the county was allowed to do so, while 54% of Laguna Beach High School students that answered the survey said that they would prefer to continue distance learning until the end of the first trimester.

According to Gilles, both of her kids said that they wanted to go back to in-person learning.

Some parents are at odds with their kids taking two classes per trimester. Janelle Naess, 51, said that her son, Griffin, a sophomore, takes a foreign language class and his sport counts as his second course.

Parent Janelle Naess demonstrates with other parents to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“He does his little conditioning, but then his only school for the first trimester is 11:30 to 1:30,” Naess said. “I don’t consider that high school for a sophomore, so that’s why I’m out here, for him.

“I just want the high school to open for in-person classes for anybody who wants to go, and then ones who are not comfortable, they can go ahead and stay home and keep doing their Zoom learning.”

Other issues raised by parents included retention of material and academic performance in an online environment that can present distractions outside of the classroom.

Amy Kramer and Sheri Morgan, both candidates for the Laguna Beach school board, were also at the protest.

It was a mask-wearing crowd that came out to call for the reopening of secondary schools. Asked if parents are concerned about another uptick in coronavirus cases, Kramer, 52, said that they are.

“I think that parents are concerned, there is no question,” said Kramer, who has a son in eighth grade at Thurston Middle School. “They want it to be safe, they want the teachers to feel safe, they want their kids to be safe, but we’re in a situation now where we were told, ‘When it clears up, we go back. The reason why we’re putting out this trimester hybrid program is so that we can get back as soon as possible and keep everybody safe,’ and now, it’s like, ‘Well, not so much.’

“It’s frustrating for parents, especially with students that aren’t doing well in this online model.”

School board President Peggy Wolff did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Laguna Beach parents demonstrate to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School on Friday at Main Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We understand that some families want a return to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” District Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said in an email. “Per Board direction at the last meeting, staff will provide a comprehensive report to the Board on October 22 that will include detailed information in preparation for a return to in-person instruction in November.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported six coronavirus deaths and 209 new infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in its latest numbers on Friday.

In total, the county has had 1,281 deaths due to the virus and seen 54,118 cases during the pandemic.

Hospitalizations because of the virus were at 175, with 48 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

An additional 10,569 coronavirus tests were reported within the last day, bringing the cumulative total of tests administered to 881,030. The healthcare agency estimates that 48,734 patients countywide have recovered from a battle with the virus.

Orange County remains in the second, red tier with its reopening metrics showing that the county has seven-day averages of 4.4 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and a 3.1% testing positivity rate. Those numbers come with a seven-day lag.

Laguna Beach parents demonstrate to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School at Main Beach on Friday.
Laguna Beach parents demonstrate to open Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School at Main Beach in downtown Laguna Beach on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Below are the coronavirus case counts and deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 10,438 cases; 283 deaths
  • Anaheim: 9,254 cases; 277 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,418 cases; 75 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 1,822 cases; 33 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,704 cases; 13 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,133 cases; 25 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 512 cases; 17 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 228 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 3,864 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 8,160 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 11,655 cases; 18 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 8,625 cases; 36 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 8,716 cases; 108 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 6,487 cases; 184 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 3,259 cases; 258 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 1,843 cases; 272 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,460 cases; 400 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at For information on getting tested, visit

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