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Laguna Beach school district plans to reopen secondary schools Thanksgiving week

Laguna Beach school district board of education approved a plan to have its secondary schools reopen for hybrid learning.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District board of education approved a plan to have its secondary school sites of Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School reopen for hybrid learning on Nov. 23.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach Unified School District has a date in place for the potential return of secondary school students to campus.

The district’s board of education voted 4-1 on Thursday night to approve a plan for the start of hybrid learning at Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School on Nov. 23.

Board Clerk Carol Normandin was the lone dissenter. Normandin has repeatedly expressed concerns about a need for COVID-19 testing in issues regarding a return of students to school sites. The district is offering optional testing.

Students would be divided into cohorts and come to class for in-person learning twice a week, with distance learning in effect for all students on Friday.

“The first week will be Thanksgiving week, which we have school on Monday and Tuesday, so it will be a Monday and Tuesday schedule,” District Supt. Dr. Jason Viloria said. “It will allow the students to come on campus … one time that week and get used to the flow.”

A presentation by Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston indicated that the district also plans to offer a full-day learning center to English language learners and students with disabilities at its secondary schools, and that could be available as soon as Nov. 2.

District staff have identified roughly 10 students at Thurston Middle School and about 15 students at Laguna Beach High School that could participate in the learning center.

In the coming weeks, the district anticipates the arrival of new technological equipment, including cameras, that will assist in allowing lessons being taught in a classroom to be brought to students in distance learning simultaneously.

Board member Jan Vickers asked if the teachers knew about the inclusion of cameras in lessons and if they were supportive of that plan. On both accounts, Winston said that was the case.

“I think everyone has a different comfort level with technology,” Winston said. “This is a new experience for all of our teachers to be able to teach students who are at home and students who are in person, and it requires some kind of creative thinking [and] lesson design.”

Distance learning and the reopening of secondary schools became a hot-button issue in town, especially when it became known that secondary schools would not be immediately following the district’s elementary schools in reopening. The district reopened elementary school campuses for hybrid learning on Oct. 5.

The public comments carried on for more than 30 minutes. Those in favor of reopening sooner and proponents of the distance-learning model both chimed in.

Sheri Morgan, a candidate for school board, called the board and district out for not having documents attached to the agenda regarding the secondary school reopening item at the time of the meeting.

“Most definitions of the word transparency, when you apply them to a social setting, include openness, but it also includes communication and accountability,” Morgan said. “It seems apparent that the understanding of this word, transparent, means one thing to this board and administration and another to the community that funds it.”

Colton Weeks, a senior at Laguna Beach High School, said that students are suffering from not being at school and school spirit is nonexistent.

“Students used to talk about how great LBHS was and how it was a perfect example of what public schools could and should be and what they can be capable of,” Weeks said. “We have exceptional standards of learning, or at least we used to. Now, all people talk about is leaving, and I think that’s horrible.”

Another student got emotional in defending the virtual academy.

“I just wanted to [give] a huge thank you to all the people who help make the virtual academy and the trimester hybrid model happen because my grades — I currently have math and science right now — my grades have never been better,” the student said.

Still, others said the district has fallen short in its communication with its parents and called into question the quality of an education for students at home.

“They’re not getting an education, sitting at home, lacking motivation, being afraid to ask a question because asking a question over Zoom is really difficult,” Michelle Foley said. “The whole class hears what you have to say, and you feel stupid asking that question, versus when you’re inperson, you can go up quietly and ask the teacher, maybe from a distance, but the whole class doesn’t have to hear you.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported four deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the latest numbers released on Saturday. There have been 1,444 deaths tied to the virus in the county since the start of the pandemic.

The healthcare agency also reported 316 new infections, bringing the total number of cases countywide to 58,326.

Hospitalizations due to the virus totaled 159 as of Saturday, with 55 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

An additional 10,092 tests for COVID-19 were reported within the last day, taking the cumulative number of tests administered to 1,055,089. Approximately 52,088 people in the county have recovered from battling the virus.

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

  • Santa Ana: 11,262 cases; 309 deaths
  • Anaheim: 9,979 cases; 313 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,556 cases; 85 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 1,989 cases; 44 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,848 cases; 13 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,212 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: 4,310 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 8,772 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 12,514 cases; 19 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 9,287 cases; 37 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 9,409 cases; 113 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 6,989 cases; 201 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 3,496 cases; 286 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 1,954 cases; 313 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,551 cases; 469 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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