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By Collin Breaux

As student mental health remains a concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, some parents have voiced their support for Capistrano Unified School District students to be able to attend classes in person on a full-time schedule again, just as they were prior to the global outbreak.

The district currently has a hybrid model, in which students can either attend classes face-to-face or continue learning online—and students are only on campus a limited amount of time if they choose the in-person option.

Parents such as Rachelle Stephan, a parent of three, spoke about the matter during a CUSD Board of Trustees meeting held on Wednesday, March 17. She said they want normalcy and kids back in school.

 “We have to stand up for this generation of our children right now,” Stephan said. “That’s our calling in these difficult times. They’re being sacrificed on the altar of fear, of the adults that are supposed to have their best interests at heart.”

Trustees and district officials said they have reached out to state legislators and county officials regarding the importance of student education and well-being. Trustee Martha McNicholas said they are pushing “as hard as we can” and for any further flexibility.

“CUSD has been a leader,” McNicholas said. “We will continue to be a leader.”

Trustee Gila Jones said the virtual/hybrid school year “just stinks.”

“It is not good education. It is not good emotionally,” Jones said. “That’s not the fault of the teachers and the staff. It’s just not a good deal. We all get it.”

Whether classrooms are open to students right now depends on the particular school district in California—some are open, but most aren’t. CUSD classrooms have been open since September.

During the meeting, Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte said the school district has to follow rules set by the California Department of Public Health.

In a statement released on March 19, Brulte said that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had revised guidance for social distancing in classrooms from a 6-foot requirement to 3 feet, that guidance has not yet been adopted by the California Department of Public Health.

The 6-foot requirement is reportedly the “biggest obstacle” to a full-time return to classrooms, since CUSD classrooms are not designed for that type of distance per student.

District staff previewed some aspects of what’s called “the reopening 2.0 plan” for the upcoming 2021-22 school year during the meeting. CUSD will provide daily live instruction for middle school and high school students, and a 100% online learning option for grades TK-12, even if it’s possible to open with a normal schedule and regular classroom sizes.

Surveys have been sent out to CUSD families to get feedback on the matter. A draft reopening plan will be presented at the April 21 board meeting for discussion, and then the plan will be discussed at the May 19 meeting for final action.

In other CUSD news, the board approved a temporary policy that allows middle and high school students to receive a letter grade for physical education classes. The topic had been discussed at recent board meetings, following reported difficulty with online physical education classes under the APEX system. Students who earned an A or a B will default to the letter A or B grade automatically.

Students who earned a B will have the option to select a credit designation in lieu of the letter grade. Students previously only received a designation of credit or no credit, which caused frustration with some students who felt they instead earned an A or B.

Students will have the option to be evaluated with a letter grade—including a C or D if they so wish—instead of credit, if it is determined they have earned one. The letter grade option does not allow for an F, a grade that will automatically convert to no credit.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at                         

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