Districts Debate: Tough choices for schools and families

Safety measures like ‘traffic lanes,’ physically-distanced desks, and hand-washing stations were recently debuted at Pio Pico Elementary school in Santa Ana in anticipation of students returning to classrooms in August, but the district announced Tuesday that they won’t be used in the foreseeable future.

“Given the latest information and the impact numbers that we’re seeing in Santa Ana, our board approved in regards to ensuring our community’s safe, to go completely distance-learning,” said Dr. Susie Lopez-Guerra, Director of Community Relations at the Santa Ana Unified School District. 

RELATED: OC school board approves reopening in-person classes without masks, social distancing

The decision from Santa Ana Unified to reverse course on its reopening plan comes the day after the Orange County Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve re-opening recommendations that don’t require masks or social-distancing, arguing that kids are in the lowest-risk cohort for COVID19. ‪

Speaking via Zoom, Orange County Board of Education’s Dr. Ken Williams said that it’s imperative that kids go back to school in the fall. “We have to return those kids to a normal environment so they can feel emotionally, psychosocially, and culturally back to a normal state and frame of mind - these kids have been really deprived. Distance learning has not been successful.” 

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The Orange County Board’s recommendations do include safety precautions like temperature checks, frequent hand-washing, and classroom cleaning, but it will ultimately be up to individual school districts to decide what plans to adopt.

The recommendation contrasts starkly with decisions from neighboring school districts like Long Beach, San Diego, and Los Angeles Unified, which have all announced that students will continue distance-learning in the fall. “The facts are clear - it’s not safe for anyone in the school communities - students, staff, or families we serve to bring everybody back and turn it into some kind giant science experiment,” LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said on Good Day LA. 

‪“This is a painful decision, but we have to keep health and safety first. Period.”