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Newport-Mesa Unified plan for learning subjects in blocks met with parent protest

Just a day after Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials voted to teach courses for middle and high school students in longer blocks, but split over the two semesters of the upcoming school year, more than 1,500 parents had signed an online petition opposing the move.

Instead of the traditional teaching method of studying subjects throughout the year, the school board on Tuesday, July 21, supported a block-style curriculum where students will complete half their courses in the fall and half in the spring.

In this model, class periods will be longer than during traditional instruction and students will focus on three or four subjects at a time in a semester, rather than six to eight as typical in a traditional year. The plan excludes students who attend Early College, Back Bay and Monte Vista high schools.

“This has been difficult for all of us,” said Martha Fluor, school board president. “But, what really struck me about this was the possibility for kids to accelerate their learning. I see it as an unbelievable opportunity to engage, with the sky being the limit.”

She acknowledged the method might have a greater impact on Advanced Placement students, but said she believes in the end, it will serve the greater good for the broader student body.

Trustees Karen Yelsey and Michelle Barto opposed the plan, saying it was too drastic to implement in such a short period of time and could negatively impact  AP and International Baccalaureate students.

“I just think it takes a lot longer to get this right than we’re giving it time for,” Yelsey said.

While Newport-Mesa Unified will start the school year on Aug. 24 with distance learning – along with all Orange County public schools under recent guidelines released by the state – the block-style of scheduling can transition to 100% in-person learning when state and local leaders allow it, officials said.

The district has six high schools and four middle schools.

District staff developed the block-learning plan and presented it to the board with a panel of educators and principals. Supporters praise it as innovative, saying students can be immersed in their subjects and get more focused input from teachers.

Critics say the plan will place extra stress on students, especially those taking AP classes. They also worry there will be learning gaps when students skip half a year with a subject such as a foreign language or math.

In less than 12 hours after the board made its decision,  parents had created a petition on calling the new model a “complete abomination.” Concerned parents said they are planning a protest at Corona del Mar High School on Monday, July 27.

The petition expresses concern that AP courses, especially those in science and math, are typically considered two-semester classes. Condensing instruction to a single high school semester would require students to work extremely hard in an already stressful year, the petition said.

There is also concern students wouldn’t be able to get back on track if something causes them to fall behind.

“It basically condenses the learning to a short period and creates a lot of stress for the students,” said Sharon MacDougall, who has two children in the district. “I’m looking for a re-think of this program. I’m concerned about this program being forced down our throats.”

Alexis Hoang said she is considering renting a house in another district.

“The pandemic is already changing everything and now, imposing a new schedule at school and cramming everything into one semester, it will make it even worse,” she said.

She likens the new pace to a college-level environment, especially for her two sons who are enrolled in AP math classes at Corona del Mar High.

“For my 12-year-old, it is just too much,” she said. “It’s like he’s taking a college class online.

“Their education and mental health is my main concern.”

While the district has already approved a 100% distance-learning plan to start off the new school year, the board discussed this week how middle and high school students could learn in-person once deemed safe by public health officials.

Just like elementary school students, the older grades would attend a modified version where students are divided into a morning group and an afternoon group so they can alternative time on campus all five days of the week and adequately social-distance in the classrooms.

When it isn’t their turn in the classroom, students would likely work at home, although if a student needed extra help or had to remain on campus, accommodations for that could be made, officials said. Students in special education classes would receive a full day of instruction.

Source: Orange County Register

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