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Some O.C. Schools Get Permission To Reopen, And A San Bernardino County School Welcomes Students Back To Campus

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If you want to know what it takes to get approved to reopen a school campus, look at Lucerne Valley Unified in San Bernardino County, which got its waiver approved last week and held its first day of in-person instruction at Lucerne Valley Elementary School today.

The school is using a hybrid model, which means half of the students will attend one day while the others learn via distance learning, then they’ll switch. Three days will be distance learning for all students.

Superintendent Peter Livingston was on campus today. He said it felt different than your usual back-to-school day.

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“The excitement was there and you could see the love between the staff and the kids,” he said. “But the hugs were air hugs. They weren't real hugs.”

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Lucerne Valley Unified staff drew circles on the grass to keep younger students physically distanced while they wait to enter the school. (Courtesy of Lucerne Valley Unified)

Livingston said parents weren’t allowed to accompany students to their classrooms. Instead, circles were drawn on the grass to help keep kids apart while they waited to be brought in by a teacher.

The school is able to reopen even though it’s in a county on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist for its high case rate because its application was approved by both county and state public health officials.

Livingston said he believed being a small rural district –- with an enrollment of about 5,400 district-wide and 445 at the elementary school -– made it “a little easier to act than a large district.”

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“As we found we needed things, we'd order 1,000 of something instead of maybe 20,000 of something, so that makes it a lot easier,” he explained. “And we have the capability, you know, to use some of our reserve money to do that, before waiting for money to come in or waiting for the state to act.”

Meanwhile, in Orange County, the local health care agency says 24 private schools and one public school district with six elementary schools — Los Alamitos Unified — have now been approved by county and state public health officials to reopen for in-person instruction.

This means more than 9,000 elementary students in Orange County can now return to school -– literally, in person.

We’ve mapped the school campuses here (the dark green markers indicate approval). Almost all of the first two waves of approved schools identified as private, independent, or faith-based schools, with the exception of the six Los Alamitos Unified campuses.

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Jake Hollatz, principal of St. John’s Lutheran in the city of Orange, said Acting Health Officer Clayton Chau called to deliver the news of the approval yesterday afternoon.

St. John’s Lutheran started its school year online this past Tuesday, and will welcome about 550 students –- or about 85% of those enrolled -– back into classrooms full-time, five days a week starting on Monday. The other 15% will continue with online-only learning for 10 weeks.

“We’ve tried to be really transparent in our process, letting parents know that it’s completely acceptable to have fear, it’s completely acceptable to be concerned. But when it comes down to it, we’re providing options,” Hollatz said. “Whether we’re learning face-to-face, or whether we’re learning online, we’ve provided options for our kids and our community and our families to continue to be connected through our school.”

In a statement, Chau said while some parents, staff, and community members have reached out to the agency expressing concerns about the waivers, the agency “has done our due diligence.”

“We understand that there are risks, but the majority of applications have large staff and parent support,” Chau wrote in the statement. “We weighed the risks and the benefits of having in-person education.”

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We’ll continue to report on these waivers and the school reopening process. Know something we should know? Email me, reporter Carla Javier.

FOR MORE OF OUR REPORTING ON SCHOOL REOPENING WAIVERS:

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