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When the academic year in the Santa Ana Unified School District starts up again, students will have a choice: Learn entirely virtually from home or come to school on certain days of the week.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a plan to reopen schools in the district that accommodates both models.

Board members emphasized the plan is very fluid and if the circumstances and numbers around the coronavirus pandemic change, the district would reevaluate with the possibility of holding all classes online. Residents of Anaheim and Santa Ana have been hit particularly hard by the virus

“It’s hybrid and virtual – distance learning is what we’re calling it. Now, if it’s bad, we’ll go complete distance learning. If it’s not bad, – and I’m praying that it’s not – you’ll have an option,” said board member Valerie Amezcua. “We learned to dance.”

Those who choose the hybrid model would also be engaging in virtual learning some days of the week but will get a chance to return to a classroom with social distancing measures in place while also using personal protective equipment like face coverings, face shields and gloves.

In the hybrid model students would be divided into cohorts and their individual cohort would determine what days they would be on campus.

While voting to approve the plan, board member Carolyn Torres said it might be best for schools in the district to resume entirely online.

“I do think we need to move forward with a plan. I am just worried that our default is going to be hybrid,” Torres said. “I would hope that we would be looking into distance learning first and then transition into a hybrid model.” 

“If school was starting tomorrow, it would be unsafe, and I do not foresee the numbers getting smaller,” she added.

Torres did however say the hybrid model was really good and if the number of coronavirus cases goes down it would be a good way to ease back into the classroom but feels its not safe enough to use it just yet.

Multiple members of the public asked the board to start the new school year completely online for the safety of the children.

“As the school board, I feel that you should not allow any students to return in person, because it’s just not worth risking their lives and it’s not just the students who’d be risking their lives if they chose to go, but anyone who they would spread the virus to if they become sick,” noted one speaker who called into the meeting, adding they’re happy nonetheless that students will be given a choice.

“SAUSD is liable for those who test positive. Lawsuits will ensue,” said another speaker.

Parents also voiced concerns about the quality of education being provided online and called out some teachers who taught during spring when classes went virtual.

“Any plan must mandate and monitor all teachers who are providing the instructional minutes mandated by the educational code,” said board member John Palacio, reading a statement submitted by a member of the public.

The district is spending millions of dollars to provide laptops, ipods and hot spots to students so they can take part in virtual learning.

Palacio emphasized the importance of stocking up and having enough of these technologies to provide to students stating other school districts would probably be looking to buy them as well.

“Whether we go distance learning, whether we go in classroom instruction, you need hotspots because even in classroom instruction, it may not be five days a week. The students are going to need something at home,” Palacio said.

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

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