By Collin Breaux

Capistrano Unified School District students will start the new school year Tuesday, Aug. 18, the same way it ended the last school year—with online learning.

CUSD, like most school districts in California, is starting the year with continued virtual learning per a mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom that campuses can only open for in-person instruction when their county is off the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 straight days.

Orange County has remained on the watch list in recent weeks, though some coronavirus-related statistics have recently been trending downward.

CUSD has utilized online learning since closing campuses in March as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. The effectiveness of distance learning has been criticized by some students and parents, which officials have acknowledged and said would be improved upon for the 2020-21 school year.

“The classes will be all online to start,” San Clemente High Principal Chris Carter told the San Clemente Times last month. “So, we’ll be starting online and we’ll be running our bell schedule as traditionally as possible to provide our students with enough continuity as much as we can.”

According to CUSD, the district has already distributed more than 7,000 Chromebooks to families so students can participate in virtual learning. The district has also conducted outreach efforts so families can familiarize themselves with Canvas, a virtual learning platform. Teachers have been training in Canvas as well.

Before Newsom’s mandate, the CUSD Board of Trustees voted on a flexible reopening plan that, in part, plans to utilize a hybrid model allowing options of some on-campus instruction with safety guidelines or all online learning. If CUSD campuses are allowed to reopen, the district plans to transition to the hybrid model.

“We’ve been developing a hybrid plan that we’ll be putting into place to bring kids at half capacity … until we can bring our students back at full capacity,” Carter said, before noting that “our models right now are going to be very flexible.”

According to Carter, the school has also developed safety plans for when students eventually return to the classrooms, in order to provide them with a “safe and clean campus that’s ready to go.” Carter further explained that such safety plans will entail the use of everyone on campus having to wear a face mask.

Teachers who recently called in to comment during an Aug. 5 CUSD Board of Trustees meeting criticized aspects of the hybrid model, saying it would be a strain for teachers to provide both in-person and virtual instruction.

The reopening plan follows state and county guidelines and includes requirements for face masks and coverings and social distancing. Classroom sizes would be limited. Families were given options of in-class or virtual instruction under the plan.

In other CUSD news, the Board of Trustees will hold a regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Agenda items scheduled for discussion include a request on behalf of the student-led group CUSD Against Racism regarding strategies to combat racism and racial inequality on CUSD campuses. The public can view the livestreamed meeting online through the district’s website at capousd.org.

Shawn Raymundo contributed to this report.

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