Some Laguna Beach Schools Will Remain Closed Until Virus Metrics Improve

February 3, 2021 Updated: February 4, 2021

Some Laguna Beach schools will remain closed until Orange County enters a less restrictive tier of the pandemic, and the local school board says it’s taking extra steps to help students struggling with remote learning.

“Under the substantially stressful conditions of the pandemic, school-based mental health staff has used multiple ways to support students, including direct check-ins, responding to our teacher, student, or parent referrals for support, conducting student screenings at the secondary level in December and currently at the K–12 level,” Laguna Beach Unified School District Superintendent Jason Viloria told The Epoch Times.

The district allocated 13 direct service providers to support students, including five school psychologists, seven school counselors, and two student support specialists who are licensed clinical social workers and credentialed school social workers, Viloria said.

“Each school has an established early warning system that triggers student contacts from the school counselor or student support specialist, including changes in attendance, low participation or engagement in class, teacher referral after identifying risks and warning signs, or low academic achievement,” Viloria said.

Adjusting to Remote Learning

His comments came as news broke that Thurston Middle School and Laguna Beach High School (LBHS) won’t be returning for in-person learning until Orange County enters the red tier, showcasing a decrease in COVID-19 transmission per the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines.

Not all students are struggling with learning from home.

Laguna Beach business owner and mother Kay Métis said her son has thrived under the remote learning model. Her son, Mael, is a Grade 11 student at LBHS.

“It’s gone incredibly well,” Métis told The Epoch Times. “I’m overwhelmingly impressed by the way the high school has handled it.”

She said the school has provided extra resources for students, citing that her son attends individual sessions with teachers throughout the week and has been disciplined with his work. He’s also a cross-country runner, so he still trains after school.

“And that’s made all the difference because he hasn’t had the lack of social interaction that a lot of students had,” Métis said.

“He also has lost some friends because he accommodated the whole social distancing thing and didn’t get together with groups of people, so, I mean in that way it’s been it’s been hard for him. But the coaches have more than made up for that.”

Laguna Beach real estate agent, Marcella Seidensticker, told The Epoch Times that her daughter, a Grade 11 LBHS student, has been thriving.

“Remote learning had been amazing for her,” Seidensticker said. “She’s had more time for her hobbies and finds it less distracting.”

She echoed the same sentiments as Métis and praised the high school for supporting her daughter.

“Even though she loves ‘homeschooling,’ we are wanting her to go to ‘real school’ next year for her senior year. Relating to others is important too,” she added.

Teachers’ Unions Push Back Against Reopening

Things look a bit different in the adjoining Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which announced its reopening for all grades returning to in-person instruction last week.

“Although there is minimal spread within our schools and worksites, the safety protocols that we implemented are critical for our collective safety,” Superintendent Russell Lee-Sung said in a statement.

“It is essential to stay home when sick, when awaiting test results or when in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive. We need to follow all of the safety precautions, all of the time, in order to slow the spread and continue to offer in-person instruction. Reducing the spread is critical right now in order to support our healthcare system.”

Right now the county is in the purple tier, or the most restrictive category in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan. Earlier this week, Newsom urged school officials to restore in-person learning soon.

However, California teachers unions are pushing back against the governor’s reopening strategy, calling for a more vigorous plan to tackle new variants of COVID-19 and getting all teachers vaccinated before returning to school grounds.

“There are no shortcuts for stopping this surge and the new variants. The virus is in charge right now and it does not own a calendar. We cannot just pick an artificial calendar date and expect to flip a switch on reopening every school for in-person instruction,” California Teachers Association President Toby Boyd said.

Elementary schools have been in-person learning since the fall in LBUSD, but there is no date for middle and high schoolers to return yet.

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