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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 64  |  August 11, 2020


Barbara’s Column

School District staff unveils reopening plan

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Laguna Beach Unified School District Board of Education closed the City’s four public schools in March and currently operates under guidelines dictated by the state that prohibit reopening the campuses until Orange County is removed from the state watch list for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Last Monday, the board voted 3-2 at a special meeting to implement distance learning through mid-November, and add a virtual academy with an option equivalent to an LBUSD six-class model, with the stated goal of educating Laguna’s youth in a safe and efficient way. 

“I am against reopening the schools until we have a vaccine or daily testing,” said Board Member Carol Normandin.

The board also agreed to divide the academic year into trimesters, which was opposed by Board Member Dee Perry.

District Superintendent Jason Viloria stated that the trimester form eases the transition to the normal school operations if schools are allowed to reopen during the school year. 

Staff recommended and the board approved two courses per trimester for secondary schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. Staff opined that a trimester system allows for consistent, synchronous instruction, which means that students, their classmates, and instructor are in a specific virtual place, through a specific online medium, in real time. Asynchronous learning occurs through an online medium, but not in real time. Hybrid learning models blend the two. 

Alternatively, Laguna’s parents could opt for the Virtual Academy for the entire school year. 

As directed by the board at the meeting, a survey has been emailed to district parents asking them to choose between a yearlong commitment to online classes and the trimester model, which commits students to distance learning five days a week, two classes per semester, until schools reopen. When is the big question mark.

The survey is a follow-up to the one conducted in June, which indicated an overwhelming preference for reopening. 

“That survey was taken before the surge [in COVID-19 cases and deaths],” said veteran Board Member Jan Vickers

Results of Laguna’s second survey could affect the district’s plan, Viloria said at the special meeting. 

School District LBHS

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School

“If we don’t have a predominant number who want to return (to on-campus classes), we will bring it back to the board,” Viloria said.

Already in the works is a Change.org petition circulated by school board candidate Amy Kramer that asks the board to reconsider its decision on the trimester format.

“We would like the six-hour, online option but taught by Laguna Beach teachers with synchronous instruction,” said Kramer.

 Yvette Lapayese, a professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University and the mother of three LBUSD children, communicated her opposition to the trimester format in an email to Stu News and to the district. 

“We urge you to reconsider the trimester model and request a full report weighing the pros and cons of a two-course trimester model for all students,” Lapayese wrote. “We appreciate the hard work put into the current plan. At this time, data and local trends suggest caution on a two-course trimester model for all students attending Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School. We ask that the Board and District Administration support the dissemination of an updated survey to include parent input on the trimester option.” 

“Newport-Mesa District has set a precedent for change,” Perry said. 

Newport-Mesa Unified School District parents this week rebelled against that district board’s approval of a so-called 4x4 plan, in which students take fewer classes, but complete a yearlong course per semester. 

Further exacerbating the differences of opinion, the Orange County Board of Education on Thursday announced it would file a lawsuit to negate the state mandate on school closures. The lawsuit was opposed by a spokesman for the Orange County Department of Education. 

Laguna’s detailed plan for the Reopening of Schools was presented to the board and the public at Monday’s five-hour meeting on YouTube. The goal is to reopen schools in a traditional format as soon as conditions and guidelines allow. 

As presented by the staff, Phase One of the plan keeps all public schools in Laguna closed through November. There is the possibility of a waiver that would allow the elementary schools to transition to Phase Two.

Schools would be opened in Phase Two for students on the trimester plan, with some modifications – protective gear must be worn, rigorous social distancing, daily screening, hand washing breaks, and daily sanitizing of the campus, among them. 

Student transportation is an issue.

School District El Morro

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

El Morro Elementary – one of Laguna’s four public schools

Third grade or younger students would not be obliged but encouraged to wear masks.

Phase Three is the ultimate goal – campuses fully operational.

Just shy of 160 comments from the public were read aloud at the meeting by Board President Peggy Wolff and Board Clerk Normandin.

More than 35 contacts explicitly supported online classes; 19 were opposed. Twenty-seven contacts explicitly opposed the trimester concept, 10 favored it.   

“Students need to commit before school starts,” said Viloria. 

Staffing assignments depend on the option selected and by how many. 

The plan was developed by two groups formed by Viloria, Deputy Superintendent Leisa Winston, and Assistant Superintendant Jeff Dixon: the Instruction Team and the Logistics Team. Meetings began in May and continued throughout the summer. 

“The plan to reopen schools is based on core district values,” said Viloria at Monday’s meeting. 

Those values serve as the foundation of the district’s Reopening Schools Plan, according to the staff report, and are organized into three major themes with benefits.

Every Student Every Day 

--Posits that all students benefit from on-campus learning, but some do better than others working independently online.

--A modified school schedule could create challenges for students and their families, making connections with local support important.

Relationships Matter

--Students benefit from social interaction with peers and their teachers.

Continuous Improvement 

--Students benefit from timely communication with their teachers and schools.

--Students’ education must meet their needs both on campus and online.

The core values of teachers and staff are also key components of the Reopening Schools Plan and many are similar to the students. The top themes culled from an exchange of ideas launched in May included prioritizing health and safety.

However, more than parents, teachers, and district staff have a vested interest in the city’s public schools.

Laguna Beach is a Basic Aid District, one of about 80 out of California’s 1,000 school districts so designated because they are primarily funded by property taxes but get basic aid from the state. The districts are generally located in wealthy communities, frequently along the coast. 

In return, a well-run, highly regarded district increases property values. 

Laguna’s four public schools provide education for an estimated 3,045 students. The district boasts about the quality of the teachers, said to be among the highest-paid in Orange County. 

To track their investment, property owners occasionally may want to check into a board meeting, streamed live at www.lbusd.org/liveboardmeeting. Check the district website for times and dates of regular meetings. 

A special emergency meeting will be held tonight, July 31, at 5 p.m. to discuss the trimester model and results of the district’s parent survey. Tune in online at the link above, and read Stu News on Tuesday for the results of the meeting.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

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