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Laguna Beach secondary students’ return to campus delayed by purple tier assignment

Two students practice soccer at Laguna Beach High School.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District planned to open its secondary schools for hybrid learning on Nov. 23, but Orange County’s return to the purple tier will delay the start of in-person learning.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach Unified School District does not expect to be able to open its secondary schools until at least January following Orange County’s move back to the purple tier.

Orange County was one of 28 counties to revert to the most restrictive tier regarding reopening with relation to transmission of the coronavirus on Monday.

District Supt. Dr. Jason Viloria said in his report at the district’s school board meeting on Thursday that preliminary conversations with the Orange County Health Care Agency did not yield a concrete timeline for when the district would be able to open its secondary school sites.

“Very surprised and taken aback Monday when we received news that the entire framework as we knew it was going to be changed,” Viloria said.

He added that the earliest that secondary students could go back to campus in the district would be in five weeks. That timeframe accounts for three weeks for the county to return to the red tier and an additional two weeks of the county maintaining numbers consistent with the metrics for that less restrictive tier.

The wait continues for Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School students to return to in-classroom learning, which was set to occur on Nov. 23. The district reopened its elementary schools on Oct. 5.

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Peggy Wolff, the outgoing president of the board, also addressed the subject prior to moving onto items on the agenda.

“I personally am sad and disappointed that our secondary schools are not able to reopen on Monday,” Wolff said. “The change in rules was swift and fast. One hour we were opening, and within one hour we were not.

“The board did support opening at the trimester break, and we do not have the ability to have a crystal ball and see what was coming up ahead of us. I think all our plans were in place. We have some of the strongest, safest plans with our cohorts.”

District officials said that previous guidance had indicated that its secondary schools would be able to reopen even if the county had bounced back to the purple tier on Tuesday.

Where tier assignments had previously come out on Tuesday, those assessments may now be made on any day and more than once a week.

As the meeting moved into items on the agenda, the reopening of secondary schools, by and large, was the subject that the public wanted to talk about.

Although the agenda for the board meeting had been posted on Friday in advance of the state’s tier assignment announcement, there would be, as one attendee called it, no ignoring “the 800-pound elephant in the room.”

The Laguna Beach City Council approved an ordinance relating to the regulation of short-term lodging units in its meeting Tuesday night. The council accepted modifications that were a condition of approval from the California Coastal Commission in October.

Some parents were unwilling to accept the frequent citation of the Brown Act from members of the board as sufficient reason to not discuss school reopening. The Brown Act precludes action or discussion from taking place on items that were not part of the posted agenda.

“I think the Brown Act is an act that … I would argue that it applies under normal circumstances,” Roddy Teeple said in the online meeting. “We clearly have an urgent issue which is the well-being of not just these children but this community.

“I would argue that the need for the special and emergency meeting, given the news that just came down, would be a requirement of this body, and to not do so would be negligent in the face of the urgency of this issue to this community, the health and well-being of this community.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported three deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 1,169 new infections on Friday. In total, the county has had 1,540 deaths due to the virus and faced a cumulative case count of 68,336.

There are currently 333 hospitalizations because of the virus, with 102 of those patients receiving care in intensive care units.

The county reported 14,542 tests for the virus within the last day, which brings the total number of tests administered to 1,314,639. The healthcare agency estimates that 57,556 patients in the county have recovered from infection with the virus.

Patti Compton said that a surge in cases that caused the county to backtrack to the purple tier was not unforeseen. She called for accountability for the school board and administration concerning why secondary students in Laguna Beach still face mandatory distance learning.

“The change to this more restrictive tier was not unanticipated,” Compton said. “It didn’t come out of nowhere. We all thought this was going to happen. We all anticipated this, and this is why we were advocating for our children to get back to school earlier so we would be able to stay in school at this time.”

Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston will be leaving the district to become the new superintendent of the Huntington Beach City School District, and she was offered congratulations by many in the board meeting.

“It’s a real testimony that another district wants our employees,” board member James Kelly said of Winston. “That shows what a great job they did for us, so I know that you’ll do a great job in Huntington Beach.”

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

  • Santa Ana: 13,092 cases; 323 deaths
  • Anaheim: 11,636 cases; 335 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,982 cases; 87 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 2,324 cases; 45 deaths
  • Irvine: 2,299 cases; 14 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,377 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 707 cases; 21 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 284 cases; fewer than five deaths

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

  • 0 to 17: 5,330 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 10,158 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 14,629 cases; 21 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 10,863 cases; 41 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 11,035 cases; 119 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 8,200 cases; 212 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 4,153 cases; 304 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 2,216 cases; 334 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,704 cases; 504 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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