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By Collin Breaux

Teachers discussed issues they had with proposed hybrid classroom plans during a Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

CUSD will start the 2020-21 school year continuing with online learning, per a mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom that California schools can only physically reopen when their county is off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 consecutive days. Orange County has remained on the watch list in recent weeks.

Before Newsom’s mandate, the Board of Trustees had approved a flexible reopening plan incorporating, in part, a hybrid model allowing options of some on-campus instruction with safety guidelines or all online learning.

Some teachers who called in to comment during the Aug. 5 meeting spoke out against there being no teachers who solely handled online learning under the plan, as well as recommendations that they livestream in-person classroom instruction for students learning online.

“This is absurd and a massive disservice to everyone involved,” San Juan Hills High School teacher Christina Hellwig said. “Students participating online at home will be passively watching me teach my class to other kids, and I will have to ignore either the in-person group or online group to engage with the other.”

San Clemente High School teacher Casey Swenson said he took issue with plans for grades 6-12 when on-campus instruction returns.

“It may sound appealing to just fold the fully online students into live instruction and hybrid classes, but the reality is the learning environment is rife with inequalities,” Swenson said. “No teacher can do live instruction five days a week in a classroom and simultaneously do daily live interaction with students at home.”

Some people who called in to comment also expressed health and safety concerns over returning to classrooms. CUSD officials said there would only be a consideration of returning to on-campus instruction when it is safe to do so. The reopening plan follows state and county health guidelines.

“No one on this board, least of all me, wants to do anything that’s going to sacrifice teachers or students or anyone else, or create an outbreak in this community,” Board President Jim Reardon said. “We’re doing things very, very cautiously.”

According to school registration data for families in grades K-5, of three options presented under the reopening plan, 55.29% selected a 100% on-campus instruction option, 22.03% chose a half-on-campus and half-at-home option, and 13.46% chose all online instruction. Approximately 8% of families did not respond and so were placed under the 100% on-campus option by default.

For grades 6-12, which only had two options of a hybrid on-campus/online model or all online instruction, 87.6% chose the hybrid model. Approximately 12% chose the all-online model, and 20.47% did not respond and so were placed under the hybrid model by default.

Trustee Gila Jones asked about requiring people in the district to show a negative test for COVID-19 after initially displaying symptoms. The reopening plan has guidelines in place for what to do if a student or staff member displays symptoms or is in close contact with someone who does, which includes sending them home.

Gregory Merwin, chief academic officer for Education and Support Services, said they recommend people who display symptoms to get tested and are looking at ways to ensure they get the necessary tests. Merwin also said medical privacy is a consideration when it comes to whether families can be compelled to share test results.

Reardon said staff can look into existing guidelines regarding people returning to work or school. 

CUSD staff is expected to come back before the board with an update on the issue during an Aug. 19 meeting.

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