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School districts start looking at possibility of return to in-person instruction

Many Orange County school districts have opened the new school year with students at home, and more have start dates coming up next week with children distance learning.

But school officials say they are encouraged that in-person instruction could resume in the not-so-distant future based on the county’s anticipated exit Sunday, Aug. 23, from the state watch list for coronavirus-troubled counties.

That would invoke a 14-day countdown until county schools could be cleared to resume in-person teaching if virus trends continue into a positive direction – perhaps by the day after Labor Day.

Many districts had readied plans for a hybrid-model of some in-person and some online learning before Gov. Gavin Newsom declared all campuses should expect to start with distance learning and the county landed on the watch list.

“We’re all happy. The superintendents are happy,” said Al Mija​res, county superintendent of schools. “All of our superintendents, they had hoped and prayed that the beginning of the year would be minimally hybrid.”

Mijares said Friday, Aug. 21, that he believes many districts will look to move to the hybrid model of education after Labor Day. He cautioned that the transition will take planning and require a level of readiness.

“It’s not as easy as turning on and off a light switch,” he said.

Capistrano Unified School District, the largest district in Orange County, would require at least a five-day transition period and it’s the school board that will set a date for transition from online-only learning, said district spokesman Ryan Burris.

In the summer, the district had asked families whether they wanted their students – if health condition allowed – to return to in-person classes, study in a hybrid model or remain in distance learning – middle and high school students could choose between the hybrid plan and full-time distance learning.

On Friday, Burris said that is what the district will initially work with in planning a transition.

“We do have a plan to reopen,” Burris said. “We feel students learn better in the classroom.”

Capistrano Unified elementary students could transition directly to in-person instruction from distance learning if their families selected that option, the district said.

The district is allowing students and families to change their return plans. Elementary students can switch course at the trimester while high school and middle school students have the option to shift at the semester.

“Everything changes every day,” said Burris, whose district of 47,000 students opened in distance learning on Tuesday, Aug. 18. “We found we have to plan for options.”

Fullerton Joint Union High School District plans to transition to a hybrid model if health conditions warrant. The district’s “Stage 2” plans allows students to pick from two options: in-person instruction two days a week and distance learning for the other three days or five days of distance learning.

But not every district’s path to in-person instruction will be the same. Santa Ana, which has the county’s second-largest school district, has endured some of the highest cases of coronavirus in the county.

“While we are encouraged to see overall countywide rates decreasing, rates in our Santa Ana community still remain high,” Superintendent Jerry Almendarez said in a statement. “We would only resume in-person instruction when our board of education, with input from health experts and our community, determine it is safe to do so. We currently don’t have a timeline for when that determination will be made.”

Staff writer Steve Fryer contributed to this report.

Source: Orange County Register

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