Beginning on Sept. 22, schools throughout Orange County, California, will no longer be required to apply for a waiver to reopen for in-person learning.
The county received approval on Sept. 8 to reopen all schools two weeks later after meeting the state's requirement for improving COVID-19 case rates.
Many of the 139 schools in Orange County approved for a waiver amid the COVID-19 pandemic—mostly private elementary schools—have already started in-person or hybrid learning, or are preparing to start the process.
However, even with the waivers becoming obsolete, not all schools will be reopening at that time.
Santa Ana Unified, one of Orange County's largest school districts, includes the city with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, with just over 10,000 cases.
The county’s other pandemic hot spot is in the city of Anaheim, with 8,896 cases.
Neither Anaheim nor Santa Ana have set a date for the start of in-person learning in their schools.
“Due to our higher COVID-19 data, our schools will continue to remain in Distance Learning format until further notice,” said Christopher Downing, superintendent of the Anaheim Elementary School District, in a Sept. 17 letter to families.
Downing told The Epoch Times that Anaheim is still in the process of consulting with the Orange County Health Care Agency and the Orange County Department of Education regarding a safe way to reopen.
The district adopted a plan for a hybrid learning schedule back in June, and also opened a brand new online-only academy for students.
“Even when we return to in-person instruction, our families have the option of having their children continue with distance learning through this new school,” Downing said.
Capistrano Unified, another large school district, has created a detailed plan for reopening schools next week. The plan includes asking families to check the temperatures of students every day before school, and then school staff checking the students’ temperatures again before arriving on campus.
Any student that refuses to wear a mask will be given several warnings before being assigned to online-only classes.
Capistrano Unified will begin its phased reopening plan on Sept. 28 for special education students, Sept. 29 for kindergarten and first grade, and Oct. 1 for second and third grades.
“The District’s priority is to reopen campuses safely for our 47,000 students and 5,000 staff and teachers, and to minimize any chance of future disruption,” wrote Superintendent Kirsten Vital in a message to the district.
Board members from the Huntington Beach City School District have approved a plan to transition from distance learning to a hybrid instruction model no earlier than Oct. 26 “provided Orange County continues to meet State and County health requirements,” according to an update by the district.
Elementary schools in Laguna Beach Unified School District were granted a waiver to open on Sept. 16, but the school board has yet to set a date to begin the district's staggered reopening of in-person learning.
When they return, elementary students will only be on campus four days of the week.
Spokesperson Anakaren Ureño told The Epoch Times via email that the district initially applied for the waiver "to keep all options open for their consideration should Orange County numbers change."
Meanwhile, Fountain Valley School District has indicated that all elementary schools will reopen as allowed on Sept. 22 with a hybrid schedule. All district middle schools will open on either Sept. 24 or Sept. 25.
In Costa Mesa, some residents gathered on Sept. 20 to protest Newport-Mesa Unified School District's plan to allow students to gradually return to campus beginning Sept. 29. The residents, including some regional teachers, cited safety concerns and indicated the district was reopening too soon.
Other residents demonstrated in Irvine earlier this month to demand schools reopen as soon as possible.
It’s “very challenging for the students to be at home, isolated in their bedrooms,” Amy Connelly, a mother of three children in the Tustin school district, told The Epoch Times at the time.
“My youngest child has a learning disability, and for him to be separated from his teacher has caused tremendous anxiety, stress, and challenges for him.”
Irvine schools now plan to reopen either Sept. 24 or Sept. 25—but only for families that selected an in-person learning model.
Many other county school districts are also offering several options for students and their families.
Orange County was moved from the purple to the red tier on the state’s "Blueprint for a Safer Economy" monitoring scale on Sept. 8 due to improving COVID-19 case rates, allowing for restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses to reopen for indoor services with limited capacity. Schools were authorized to reopen for in-person learning two weeks later.
On Sept. 9, the California Supreme Court refused to hear a petition by the Orange County Board of Education to allow public schools to reopen early.