ORANGE COUNTY, CA — The worsening coronavirus pandemic has led more Southland school districts to start the 2020/21 school year online, it was announced this week.
On Monday, both Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District banded together in their announcement of online classes to start the coming school year. Meanwhile, Orange County's Board of Education had different ideas, voting 4-1 to encourage the districts under their umbrella to send kids back to regular school without masks or distancing.
Though the board of education makes recommendations of their districts, it is the individual school districts that ultimately make their own decisions. On Tuesday, school districts across the county were back to the drawing board to handle the coming school year.
There is no word yet on how distance learning will affect southern California school districts with regard to sports, clubs and recreational activities. The CIF Southern Section has proclaimed that they will release a tentative schedule for Fall, Winter and Spring teams by July 20.
In Laguna Beach, a decision was made Tuesday to adhere to state guidelines rather than the Orange County Board of Education's suggestion.
Laguna Beach Superintendent Jason Viloria told families in an email that the board's open opposition to mask-wearing and social distance is not what he feels is best for the district. Viloria wrote that:
"Health mandates and guidance for safe school reopening are issued by the California Department of Public Health and Orange County Health Care Agency, and the Laguna Beach Unified School District will follow this guidance in planning for reopening of schools."
They will meet later this month to determine what will work best for Laguna Beach families going forward into the new school year.
In the same vein, the Santa Ana Unified School District has decided to go back to school virtually to start the year.
"During these challenging times, the safety of our school community continues to be our top priority. While we hope at some point to have our students attend our schools alongside their classmates and teachers, now is not the time," Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Almendarez said. "Meanwhile, we are working to develop a rigorous distance learning plan that will allow students to continue their education at home."
Santa Ana Board of Education President Rigo Rodriguez added, "We want to proceed with extreme caution as we move forward with our efforts to offer a robust education."
"Making the decision now to shift to a virtual education model gives the district more time to make sure our teachers are fully prepared, our parents are well informed, and our students have access to devices and internet needed for us to deliver the highest quality service during this time," he added.
Los Alamitos Unified School District laid out plans earlier in the summer to reopen schools with physical campus presence on August 31 after surveying families. However, Superintendent Andrew Pulver admitted that the plan was subject to change. There have been no updates since June 20.
Elsewhere in Orange County, the Fountain Valley Unified School District, the Newport Mesa Unified School District, the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, and the Capistrano Unified School District are evaluating plans for reopening based upon parent requests and safety:
full return to school "as normal," with implemented health protocols
a blended model with some time spent at school and some time at home
total distance learning for K-12 for families who want their children to remain at home next school year.
With Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts leading the way for total online schooling for the 2020/21 school year, the Long Beach Unified School District and the Pasadena Unified School District determined to do the same.
The superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District recommended that campuses in the district remain closed for the beginning of the school year due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County.
Superintendent Brian McDonald said he wants the district's 23 schools to begin instruction on August 17, but with a 100 percent distance-learning model.
"All of us would like to see students back in school when it's safe to do so. But Los Angeles County has recorded a surge in new cases in the last week, with a 9 percent rate of positive cases," McDonald wrote in a letter to the PUSD community. "We cannot and will not take chances with the health and safety of our students and staff. I plan to bring a recommendation to the Board of Education at a special meeting on July 16 that Pasadena Unified opens in a 100 percent distance learning model on August 17."
McDonald said the district has been preparing for such a possibility and will continue to monitor and evaluate public health conditions and guidelines for a chance to return to in-person learning on campus. The district's school board previously announced the school year would begin August 17 with a combination of in-person and distance learning.
The PUSD comprises more than 16,700 students in a 76-square mile area that includes Altadena, Pasadena, Sierra Madre, and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
What are your thoughts on distance learning vs. in classroom education? Let us know in comments, or by emailing your thoughts to your Patch editor.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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