Teachers in Southern California’s Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) are imploring the schools to return to distance learning immediately, saying the hybrid model of education currently in use is “not working on any level.”
Students in the NMUSD returned to a hybrid learning model on Nov. 30, despite a recent letter from the local teachers’ union urging the middle and high schools to go back to distance learning after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers sent a letter to the district on Nov. 23, saying that the reality is “the hybrid model is not working” and “is a complete and utter failure.” The letter also called the hybrid model “a literal accident waiting to happen.”
“Secondary students are not observing social distancing during passing, lunch, and coming to and from campuses. Mask wearing does not occur when these students are outside the watchful eyes of their teachers in the classroom. Many of them are not properly wearing face-covering,” stated the letter, signed by members of the executive board of the teachers’ organization.
After Orange County was moved back to the most restrictive purple tier in California’s COVID-19 tracking system earlier in November, Newport-Mesa announced that its schools would stay open for hybrid instruction.
“State guidelines note that if a county falls back into the ‘purple tier,’ schools that have already resumed in-person instruction prior to today are not required to close. Since all Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) schools have reopened for hybrid in-person instruction, our schools will remain open,” the district stated in an update on its website.
The teachers’ union, however, said the district’s dashboard of current COVID-19 cases “does not accurately reflect the risk in this community.”
“Although the protocols for contact tracing appear to be following the recommended standards, they fall dangerously short and are misrepresented by a dashboard compiled with information gathered through a flimsy, flawed, haphazard process,” the letter said.
The school district had decided at a special board meeting in October to delay the return of in-person classes for grades 7 through 12, but later reached an agreement with the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers to allow secondary schools to reopen on Nov. 9. The union represents 1,200 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and other staff.
In a Nov. 23 Thanksgiving message to the district, Superintendent Russell Lee-Sung wrote, “Now, more than ever, I encourage each of you to consider these state and county guidelines during the holiday season and to continue your diligence in following the health precautions, not only within our schools, but in the community.”
As of Dec. 1, there are 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 21 schools in NMUSD, according to the online dashboard. The largest number of cases are located in Costa Mesa Middle/High School, with 13 individuals testing positive out of a population of 1,807.
The state requires a school to close if at least 5 percent of the students and/or staff test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days.
The NMUSD includes 32 schools in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Corona del Mar, with over 20,000 total students and staff at its elementary and secondary school sites, according to the district’s website.