Orange County Schools Can Reopen Starting Today, How Many Will?

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

University High School in Irvine on Sep. 17, 2020.

As of today, all of Orange County’s schools now have the option of reopening their classrooms after being closed down since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.


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So far, only four districts are on the verge of opening classrooms but some teachers and parents are still concerned about the move and warily watching Covid infection numbers. The infection rates have improved significantly since the case spikes in June and July.  

“When we reach [Tuesday], then all schools, K-12, by state regulations are allowed to reopen for in person education, and the decision would rest on the school district and school board, parents, teachers and all of that,” OC health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said at a Monday news conference. 

Cypress School District, which has roughly 3,600 elementary students, is scheduled to reopen its classrooms tomorrow. 

The district gave parents a choice: a full time classroom schedule, a hybrid schedule of limited classroom attendance, or a complete online schedule. 

Cypress was previously denied a state waiver to reopen because it didn’t get enough support from staff or the teacher’s union. 

“Only 46% of the certified staff in the regular/hybrid schedule who responded to your survey supported the waiver request. Only 7% of the certified staff in the distance schedule who responded to your survey supported the waiver request,” reads the rejection letter. 

“While the [Health Care Agency] commended the district for its reopening plan, the waiver was denied because there was not sufficient teacher union support. However, this decision does not impact our first day of in-person instruction on September 23, 2020,” reads the district’s website. 

Because OC has moved into Tier Two, the waiver is now obsolete because the new tier allows all schools to reopen classrooms. 

“Remember, the waiver existed for the old system when the county was on a monitoring list for elementary schools to be able to open early,” Chau said. “But once a county enters the stage where all K-12 are able to open, that waiver no longer works. It’s no longer applicable.”

A Cypress School District survey shows a different response from parents on classroom reopenings.  

“District survey data showed that 49.92% of our families preferred a Regular school schedule, 22.94% a Hybrid schedule, and 27.14% full-time Distance Learning. Additionally, families expressed a concern that there was not a common learning management system across the district,” reads a staff report on the school board’s agenda

Yet state public health guidelines call for input from all parties. 

“School leaders should engage relevant stakeholders—including families, staff and labor partners in the school community—to formulate and implement plans,” reads the guidelines

Unlike the old waiver, the guidelines don’t stipulate there needs to be a certain approval percentage from staff, parents, community groups or the teacher’s union. 

Capistrano Unified School District, which oversees roughly 47,000 students in schools across South County, nixed a January 2021 reopening plan for its high schools at its upcoming Wednesday school board meeting. 

“Last night, Superintendent [Kirsten] Vital recommended to Trustees that we pull Agenda item #38 from Wednesday night’s Board meeting. Agenda Item #38 included a revised phase-in plan for resuming “in-person” learning for high school until the end of the first semester,” reads a Tuesday email sent to parents, signed by Vital and District President Jim Reardon. 

Under current plans at CUSD, high schools in the district are scheduled to open as soon as October.

“A majority of Trustees support pulling the item, which means that it will not be considered for implementation. Our high schools will open for classroom instruction on October 13, as previously approved by our Board,” reads the email.

Even more teachers than in the Cypress School District opposed the elementary school reopening plan done under the waiver process, which is now defunct since OC is in Tier Two. 

Less than 30 percent of Capistrano Unified School District’s elementary school teachers supported the waiver, according to the county Health Care Agency. The union also didn’t support the waiver.  

The district is forging ahead with reopening plans using a similar combination of hybrid choices and online only choices as Cypress School District, according to information on Capistrano Unified School District’s website.  

Although students in sixth grade and above will have either online learning only or half days at school, coupled with online learning. Unlike elementary schools, there’s no classroom only options offered. 

Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,150 people out of 52,382 confirmed cases, including 22 new deaths reported Tuesday, according to the county Health Care Agency.

For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually. 

Hospitalizations continue to see a decrease with 170 people hospitalized, including 55 in intensive care units as of Tuesday. 

Over 805,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:



Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio