Newport-Mesa parents, students protest at district office in support of reopening secondary schools

Prescott Cook, center, Grace O'Brien, right, and other students and parents protest.
Prescott Cook, center, Grace O’Brien, right, and other students and parents protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office in Costa Mesa on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The stutter of horns was met by cheers as cars approached a stoplight early Friday afternoon. One man stepped off the sidewalk, a sign in his hands as he signaled for drivers to honk for the cause — reopening Newport-Mesa Unified School District secondary schools for on-campus instruction.

Supporters of reopening crowded the sidewalk that runs adjacent to the district’s office and wrapped around the corner of Bear and Baker streets in Costa Mesa, calling for the board of trustees to vote in favor of a return for secondary schools to campuses on Nov. 9 for hybrid, in-person instruction at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday.

District staff is recommending approval of the new proposed return date for secondary schools with the exception of Back Bay/Monte Vista High School, which, if approved, would return on Nov. 3.

Early College High School will remain in the distance learning model due to difficulties related to the alignment with the Coastline Community College system, said NMUSD spokeswoman Annette Franco.

Elementary school students returned to campuses on Sept. 29.

Students and parents protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
Students and parents protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office. They want the district to reopen its secondary schools.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

This is the second such protest at the district office this month, the first having occurred on Oct. 8 when parents and students, poised to go back to campuses on Oct. 12, learned that district officials were considering pushing back the return date to a date no later than Dec. 17.

That delay was approved in a 5-1 vote. Trustee Vicki Snell dissented. The announcement of a new return date came Thursday.

NMUSD students poised to return to secondary school campuses Monday will have to stay put, after district officials admitted Thursday they were not prepared for the move.

But, Newport Harbor High School senior Grace O’Brien, who with her friends organized the protest on Oct. 8, said she won’t get her hopes up.

“We want to go back to in-person learning and we are willing to compromise with teachers and staff to do so,” said Grace, 17. “Students and parents are willing to help to ensure we can go back on campus. We want the district and school board to know that we are feeling frustrated and let down and hope they will finally keep their promise of shifting to hybrid learning on Nov. 9.”

Newport Mesa United Parents organized the protest Friday.

Jeanine Bashore, whose daughter is a sophomore at Newport Harbor, said the rally really came together last Friday after she held a meeting at her house with about 25 other parents.

Danielle Whisenand, left, and her son Wyatt, 5, protest.
Danielle Whisenand, left, and her son, Wyatt, 5, hold signs outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“The result was we were going to have a rally and we’re going to get as many people as we can to come to the rally because we’re here to support to our kids. We’re here to support education and advocacy for our children and we’re also here to keep the district accountable,” Bashore said. “We had great news yesterday that they’re now going to open on Nov. 9, however, the board still has to vote on it.”

“There’s progress, I would say. However, we need the approval,” she added. “We are also late in the game. We have districts all around us that are all back in school and we just want our kids back in school.”

A new seventh-grader at Ensign Intermediate School, Katie Cross said it’s been difficult transitioning from Eastbluff Elementary to middle school and that she’d been hoping to make a lot of friends and meet her teachers.

“The hardest part probably has been, since now I have so many different classes and before I only had one class, having to keep track and keep up with all the work that’s being posted online and going to every class and being able to communicate with all my teachers when there’s problems,” said Katie, 12.

Parents and students line up on the sidewalk and protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
Parents and students line up on the sidewalk and protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Before, there was just one source online and that’s where everything was posted with just one teacher,” she added. Both she and her mother wrote a letter to the district asking for reopening.

Another Ensign student, Joaquin Rigdon, said he’s personally been struggling with finding the motivation to learn. He said there is a consequence for not doing work when he attends class in-person, but that he doesn’t have that as a reason to at home. He said he realized he did better in the classroom in the last three weeks.

“There’s a lot of distractions. My phone, my bed — it’s harder to focus,” Joaquin, 14, said.

Emma Lima, whose son attends Ensign, said in Spanish through a translator that she came out because she feels her son isn’t learning anything from Zoom. She said it was important for him to go to class and be with his teachers and peers to learn.

“Sometimes, he has questions he can’t ask because he’s lost in the Zoom,” said Elsa Castillo, who translated for Lima.

Bella Castillo, left, and her mother Elsa join others in protest.
Bella Castillo, left, and her mother, Elsa, center, protest outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Castillo, a mother of a sophomore at Newport Harbor, said she felt that parents needed to be the children’s advocate. She said she was worried that her daughter’s education was falling behind.

The rally went on for about an hour before ending at around 1 p.m.

Bashore said the protest was about being heard and holding the district accountable, but that the dozens of people attending wanted district officials to also know that they were here to support them.

“We love our teachers. We love our schools. We love our principals. We are here to support, but it’s also the accountability,” Bashore said. “We’re not at the finish line yet. [Thursday] was a huge step, but we still need the board to approve and we won’t stop until our kids are sitting at a desk on campus.”

A protestor holds a sign outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
A protestor holds a sign outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District office.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Orange County COVID-19 stats

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported six coronavirus deaths and 162 new infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in its latest numbers released on Friday.

As a county, there have been 1,440 deaths reported since the onset of the pandemic, and the cumulative case count stands at 58,010.

Hospitalizations because of the virus numbered 162 as of Friday, with 58 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

There were 12,135 tests for COVID-19 reported within the last day, bringing the total number of tests administered in the county to 1,044,997. Approximately 51,990 people in the county have recovered from fighting the virus, according to data provided by the healthcare agency.

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 11,197 cases; 308 deaths
  • Anaheim: 9,927 cases; 314 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,544 cases; 85 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 1,979 cases; 44 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,829 cases; 13 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,205 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 555 cases; 20 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 242 cases; fewer than five deaths

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

  • 0 to 17: 4,276 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 8,729 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 12,440 cases; 20 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 9,231 cases; 37 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 9,359 cases; 112 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 6,943 cases; 201 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 3,487 cases; 283 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 1,947 cases; 313 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,551 cases; 468 deaths

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

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