School Districts Divided on Pandemic Teaching Approaches

December 17, 2020 Updated: December 17, 2020

Rising COVID-19 figures have prompted some school districts to close classrooms, while others are maintaining on-site lessons and forcing defiant teachers to take sick leave.

Huntington Beach Union School District recently informed its teachers that they must return for in-person teaching Jan. 5, or take a leave of absence.

In a brief letter posted to the district’s website, Superintendent Clint Harwick said Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order doesn’t affect schools and campuses that are already open for in-person learning.

“[Our] schools will continue to remain open to in-person learning at this time,” Harwick wrote Dec. 3. “We appreciate your patience and understanding during this global pandemic.”

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard Dec. 16, 26 staff members and 71 students tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days across all of their schools.

Other schools are taking a different approach.

Brea Olinda Unified School District is among those moving to full distance learning. At-home learning will last nearly two months; the school could return to a hybrid instructional model in February.

La Habra City School District returned to distance learning Dec. 1 and its teachers will continue teaching remotely until at least Jan. 5.

In Westminster School District, students will switch over to a full distance-learning model after returning from winter break on Jan. 4. Superintendent Cyndi Paik said in a letter that students could return to hybrid learning as early as Feb. 16.

“This is due to the increasing positive cases in Orange County,” Paik wrote. “Currently, Orange County Health Agency has reported 0% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds availability and Southern California Regional ICU beds at 2.7%. Over the Winter Break and into the first week of January, we will continue to monitor data for any improvements and let everyone know should there are any changes.”

Other districts that will continue distance learning include Anaheim Union High School District, Santa Ana Unified School District, and Garden Grove Unified. Newport-Mesa Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified School District remain in hybrid instruction.

In a joint letter to Orange County superintendents and schools boards, 19 different teachers unions have called on schools to use distance learning until infection rates stabilize.

“Currently, the school districts in our county follow different policies and rely on voluntary virus reporting,” the letter says. “Without consistently applied testing and tracing, our schools risk spreading infection throughout the county.

“By shifting instruction to distance learning, we can help flatten the curve before the rate of infection spikes beyond the capacity of hospitals and healthcare providers.

“Distance learning, while necessary, has been exhausting and difficult for both students and teachers. There’s nothing educators want more than to teach and interact with their students in person. But now is not that time.”

Other districts who have announced they will be staying open include Irvine Unified School District and Capistrano Unified School District.

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