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Orange County school districts return to distance learning due to COVID-19 surge

Huntington Beach High School
The Huntington Beach Union High School District, home to Huntington Beach High, is among Orange County school districts that are returning to distance learning.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Many Orange County students returned from the winter break without needing a ride to school — just a computer.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District, Huntington Beach Union High School District and Huntington Beach City School District are among the local districts that have switched back from a hybrid-learning model to distance learning, effective Monday, for at least part of January.

Fountain Valley School District and Ocean View School District have also gone back to distance learning as coronavirus numbers continue to spike, while Laguna Beach Unified School District secondary schools remain in distance learning as well.

Huntington Beach City School District Supt. Leisa Winston had her first day on the job Monday, after being hired in November. She said the district’s elementary and middle schools would be in the distance-learning model through Jan. 15, with students able to return to the in-person hybrid model on Jan. 19.

“We’ve had very minimal to no spread within our school environment,” Winston said. “Our protocols are working. However, we have increasing cases of staff and students who are exposed outside of school. With increasing numbers of staff who are quarantining, it’s really difficult to keep continuity of instruction going when you’re trying to find substitutes and there’s a documented substitute shortage statewide, especially now with COVID. Obviously, we need staff to be able to maintain our really safe environment and protocols. I think that’s the biggest concern, making sure that we have continuity of instruction and that our staff and students are safe and healthy.”

Huntington Beach Union High School District, which includes Edison, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Marina, Ocean View and Westminster high schools and three alternative education schools, will be in distance learning through the end of the first semester on Jan. 29.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District announced on Dec. 18 that its secondary schools will be in distance learning through Jan. 22, while its elementary schools will continue in the hybrid model. Newport-Mesa also suspended extracurricular activities, including athletics, during the distance-learning period, unlike HBUHSD.

Huntington Beach High English teacher Josh Anderson said he will be continuing modified boys’ tennis practices during this period.

“I’m going to miss being in-person, for sure,” Anderson said.

“I’m going to have to modify my little office and make myself a podium so I can stand up and teach, still be energetic and be engaging … But there are also a lot of positives. We have things like Google Meet and Zoom, where kids can connect with each other and teachers and tutors online. I fully support us taking this month, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we end up extending it a couple of weeks into February.”

Huntington Beach High School.
Huntington Beach High School.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Fountain Valley School District announced that it will be in distance learning this week and hopes to return Jan. 12 but may extend it another week to Jan. 19.

Ocean View School District will be in distance learning through Jan. 15, the board of trustees decided after a special meeting on Dec. 29. Students had Monday off so that teachers could prepare lessons.

OVSD Board of Trustees President Patricia Singer said that Orange County’s modified Intensive Care Unit bed count of 0% was the biggest factor in her in voting to return to distance learning.

“We’ve been extremely successful with all of our mitigating factors, but we just don’t know what will happen here in the next couple of weeks,” Singer said.

“If somebody gets sick, it’s like, where do they take them? If our staff gets sick, where do they go? Believe me, it’s disappointing. As a mom with a middle-schooler, I want my kid in school. I think kids deserve to be in school, and they do better when they’re in school. But I think overall, when we’re in charge of the health and safety of not only our students but our community, teachers and staff, we have to balance all of that.”

Parents seem to be accepting of the return to distance learning, up to a point.

April Helliwell, the PTSA president at Hawes Elementary School in Huntington Beach who organized a rally to reopen Huntington Beach City School District schools in September, said most of her parent friends are understanding of the reasoning.

“It’s definitely something that we can wrap our heads around and are in agreement with,” Helliwell said. “Coming off of the holiday, it sounds like the safe and responsible thing to do. I just think that people are a little bit nervous. The last time they told us it was two weeks, it ended up being the rest of the school year, so I think there’s a little of that PTSD in some of us parents.”

Jeanine Bashore, whose daughter Kate is a sophomore at Newport Harbor High, voiced similar concerns.

Bashore has been a similar proponent of reopening schools and expressed frustration that her daughter, who is on the dance team, could not have practices on campus during the distance-learning period.

“I get it,” she said. “It’s not good in Orange County right now for COVID, and it seems like it’s very contagious. But we did have all the precautions in place for athletics, as well as academics … It’s just really frustrating.”

Orange County COVID-19 stats

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Tuesday reported no new deaths related to the coronavirus and 1,376 new positive test results.

The death toll due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, remains at 1,926 deaths countywide. The cumulative case count is now 171,955, including deaths.

Orange County hospitalizations due to the virus are at 2,236, with 504 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Orange County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.

The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people is 67.8, while the test positivity rate is at 17.1%. Both numbers are seven-day averages with a seven-day lag.

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

  • Santa Ana: 32,110 cases; 380 deaths
  • Anaheim: 29,194 cases; 414 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 6,900 cases; 103 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 5,651 cases; 55 deaths
  • Irvine: 6,346 cases; 24 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 2,429 cases; 28 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 2,230 cases; 32 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 541 cases; fewer than five deaths

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

  • 0 to 17: 16,153 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 24,016 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 35,494 cases; 27 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 27,236 cases; 45 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 27,884 cases; 144 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 21,322 cases; 267 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 10,683 cases; 373 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 5,360 cases; 432 deaths
  • 85 and older: 3,710 cases; 632 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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