By Costa Beavin-Pappas, Dana Point Times Intern

As high school students started their academic year with purchases of back-to-school necessities, now more than ever, a WiFi connection also was necessary to ensure success in a new educational environment dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capistrano Unified School District began the semester on Tuesday, Aug. 18, implementing virtual learning for the classroom, with students receiving their education in an online environment from home.

Joseph Domingot, a Dana Hills High senior, admits that though online learning has made certain classes including his Advanced Placement (AP) course easier, he is unsure that it will prepare him enough for the AP test.

“I want to go back to school,” Joseph said. “It’s easier to learn, and I miss seeing everyone in person.”

Because he is a senior, Joseph says that this year will be important as he decides which four-year university he plans to attend. For him, this year will also be his last year spent with friends he has grown up with and worries that he may not be able to spend the year with his peers.

Katerina Domingot, a sophomore at Dana Hills High School, works on her online classes outdoors to enjoy the fresh air. Photo: Costa Beavin-Pappas

His younger sister, Katerina Domingot, shares in Joseph’s concern as she starts her sophomore year. Since her semester went online last school year, she’s now adjusting to beginning a semester without the familiarity she at least had with her classmates and teacher last spring.

“Courses this year have definitely changed,” Kat said. “I got to know my teachers last spring, so when classes first went online, it wasn’t that difficult. Now, I don’t get the chance to know these teachers for the fall, and it’s getting a lot more difficult. I have less free time, for sure.”

Last spring, when classes switched to online learning before spring break, some teachers held Zoom classes; others allowed for independent learning in which they assigned work at the beginning of the week and had students turn it in by the end. Now, all the Domingot siblings’ courses are being taught online for the same duration as if they were in-person classes.

Virtual learning comes with its own set of challenges as both Domingot siblings know too well.

“There are Internet connection problems, audio issues, the distraction of being on your computer . . .  and Zoom-bombing,” Joseph said.

Zoom-bombing, or Zoom raiding, is an unwanted, disruptive intrusion, generally by Internet trolls and hackers, into a video conference call. While Joseph says it’s not something he considers to be common anymore, teachers of a virtual classroom at Palisades Elementary School were forced to briefly shut down their online instruction on the first day of school when an individual disrupted the class by displaying graphic, adult-only content to the group of students.

Katerina says that though she has stayed in close contact with her friends, she misses meeting new students and the interactions and excitement within the typical classroom setting.

“I just want to go back to school,” she said. “I miss the inside jokes and conversations that you can’t have on Zoom.”

With the number of Orange County coronavirus cases trending downward, some are predicting that public schools could open as soon as the end of September. Orange County is likely to move down a tier, to a lower-risk level, on the state’s new tiered monitoring system to track coronavirus cases, county officials announced on Tuesday, Sept. 1. According to a press release from the Orange County Health Care Agency, County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau reportedly got confirmation from the state health department on Monday, Aug. 31, that the county “is on track to enter into the red tier” on Sept. 8.

OC Health also noted that as long as the county maintains its metrics and moves to the red tier, all K-12 schools could be eligible for reopening in-person classes as early as Sept. 22.

The move down from the purple (widespread) tier—the highest-risk level—to the red (substantial) tier hinges on whether the county can maintain its current metrics on new cases and test positivity rate.

Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees meets on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 5:30 p.m. to consider approving a revised reopening plan in light of the state’s new monitoring system.

Lillian Boyd contributed to this story.

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