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Santa Ana Unified Rejects OC Board Of Education Advice On Reopening Schools

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In a controversial vote on Monday night, the Orange County Board of Education approved a non-binding recommendation for reopening schools that would not require physical distancing or wearing masks.

One of the county's largest districts, Santa Ana Unified, soundly rejected that advice on Tuesday.

In a statement, the district said it "will pivot entirely to distance learning to start the upcoming school year out of concern for the safety and well being of the entire school community." In an interview with LAist, a spokesman for Santa Ana Unified, Fermin Leal, said the county Board's 4-1 vote would not influence the district's decision. He said,

"Our district is guided by our own community, our own school board, and local and state health care experts, so the Orange County ... Board of Education decision really does not impact us in any way."

The elected OC Board's vote is contrary to guidelines issued by both the state and the Orange County Department of Education, which has advised that districts "encourage" students to wear masks and face coverings "to the extent feasible."
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Leal said in considering whether or not to start the semester virtually, the district surveyed parents. About 40% said "full-time virtual learning" should be an option, 30% said it shouldn't be, and the other 30% were unsure.

Leal said the district will "rely on the advice from our local and state health care agencies, along with community input and our Board of Education" to determine if and when campuses will reopen again for instruction.

"We don't know if it's going to be a matter of weeks, months, or maybe even longer," Leal said. "A moving target."

Most districts in Orange County are still deciding on how to reopen their schools for the fall semester. Some, like Tustin Unified, are offering parents the option to decide between fully online learning or a hybrid model that would combine some in-person instruction with distance learning. Others are waiting for further guidance from health officials.

Even without a final decision, some school districts on Tuesday said that even if campuses either fully or partially reopen, they won't return without requiring masks and social distancing, despite the Board's guidance.

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"The board majority's recommendations are not binding and La Habra City School District will not open our schools under these conditions," the district's superitendent, Joanne Culverhouse, said in a statement. "The health and safety of our staff and students will guide the decisions we make for reopening our schools."

In Huntington Beach -- site of several vehement anti-masks protests in the spring -- the high school district said on Twitter that face coverings and social distancing will be required on campuses.

And a day prior to the Board's vote, the leadership of the Anaheim Union High School District said on Facebook that it is "recommending that the AUHSD Board of Trustees vote for reopening schools using a full distance learning model to begin the 2020-2021 school year."

Several Orange County districts' own boards of education are expected to consider how to reopen their schools in meetings this week.

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