Kids in Orange County will be learning virtually when the academic year starts up again until the County is off a state monitoring list for two weeks under orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom last week.

But students in the Fullerton School District may also have other options if the state allows Orange County schools to reopen in person sometime later this year, under a plan approved Monday night by district trustees. 

The plan – like many of plans being approved and developed in other districts – gives options to parents to pick if they want to send their kids to school five days a week, a couple days of the week or have learned completely virtually. The Fullerton School District had previously approved these options in June.

Besides the three options there is also a fourth option for homeschooling called MyFSD academy that was in the works as a permanent option before the pandemic hit.

Other districts like Lowell Joint School District however are planning to have a phased reopening starting online then to a hybrid model of online and a couple days in the classroom then finally to a full reopening.

The Fullerton school district’s Board of Trustees voted 4-1 Monday to finalize approval of their reopening plans for the Fall. Board president Jeanette Vázquez voted against the plans because it offers a five days at school option.

“I cannot approve an option that includes five days when we don’t know if 100% of our students or parents might want to do five days on campus, how’s that going to impact our staff? how’s that going to impact our community in the spread of COVID?” Vázquez said.

If and when schools do open up in the district, students and staff will be required to wear face coverings with some exceptions, 800 employees would be tested for the virus regularly, classes would be clean and sanitized regularly.

The question of whether to reopen or not reopen schools came under intense debate last week in Orange County until Newsom’s order last Friday. Newsom’s announcement came after national pushback from some teachers and teacher unions, parents and community members who are calling for a safe return to schools.

Many teachers in Orange County and across the country are uneasy or are scared to return to the classroom in fear of adding to the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Concern over the quality of education being doled out online have risen up in the County following the spring semester when the pandemic pushed districts into virtual learning. Especially for students with disabilities who are struggling without the hands-on face to face interactions with their teachers. 

Fullerton School District Superintendent Robert Pletka acknowledged that teachers were put in circumstances they never had to deal with before, had to learn new technology and adapt curriculum in ways it was never designed to be.

“I will say it is haunting as a superintendent to know that I had first graders that didn’t learn to read, because of the impact of COVID-19. I know I had special education needs students that needed their teacher,” Pletka said.

“What we did was the best we could. It wasn’t what our kids needed.”

The district will be making changes to distance learning this time round with hopes to avoid the problems regarding the learning model that arose in spring. This includes greater support for students with disabilities, english learner students, foster and homeless youth.

Hotspots and ipads will be available to students.

Other school districts will continue to develop plans for when the County is given the go ahead to resume in-person instruction and set to vote on them this week. 

The Newport-Mesa School District’s Board of Education will meet on July 21 at 4 p.m. to vote on reopening plans and Orange Unified School District board as well as Saddleback Valley Unified School District’s board is set to meet on Thursday to vote on their reopening plans.  

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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