Newport-Mesa Prepares for an Uncertain Year

Mathilde Requier, Co-Editor in Chief

On July 24th, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) announced a long-awaited decision: schools would not reopen at the start of the new school year. Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s “Pandemic Plan,” Orange County schools would only be allowed to open in-person if removed from the Monitoring List for more than two weeks. To be removed in the first place, there must be fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, a positive test rate of less than 8 percent, less than a 10 percent increase in hospitalization, and more than 25 percent of ICUs available. As of August 23rd, Orange County has met the threshold for four days, meaning it is officially off of the Monitoring List  — an evident start to schools’ reopening if numbers don’t go higher.

In response to the county’s status, NMUSD has left students and parents with two choices: choosing to commit to 100% online learning for the entire school year through the new Cloud Campus school, or choosing to follow its three-level plan. NMUSD schools are currently starting on the third level, with 100% virtual learning. Once the state approves schools reopening in Orange County, NMUSD plans to switch to the second level, where half of the student body would go on campus in the morning, and the other half would go in the afternoon. This level would mainly focus on social distancing, with smaller classes, the requirement of face coverings, regular sanitation, and regular wellness screenings. The first level would follow the same structure, with morning and afternoon groups, but without the maintenance of social distancing. This would only be possible if authorized by the state of California and Orange County, in response to local conditions. 

The three-level plan is adjustable to different circumstances, meaning that if the number of COVID cases increased, schools could switch back to the social-distancing model of level 2 or even back to distanced learning under level 3. However, due to the maintenance of cohorts under level 2 and level 3, students will always be in the same classes with the same classmates and teachers.

“Because [students] will be in their classroom groups on level 2, we would want [students] to stay with them the whole year so that you could get interactive learning. There is also always the chance that we would have to go back to a distanced level 2 or a level 3 like we are now,” NMUSD board member Michelle Barto said. “To allow for the movement back and forth, it would be best to keep students in the same classroom.”

As Newport Harbor starts out on level 3, many new guidelines for virtual learning are in place for the school year. First of all, attendance will be taken daily, with students who are absent for more than three consecutive days being contacted by the school. Technological and financial support is now more available for those in need, with all students being given Chromebooks, free or low-cost internet services for those in need, and grab-and-go meals. 

“As far as financially, last year, we handed out over $100,000 in gift cards from local stores to keep families fed and for them to get basic hygiene products. We had Wednesday distributions thanks to Ms. Barnebey, Mr. Hirst, Mrs. Taravella, and Mr. Navarro. I hope we can continue that and I wholeheartedly support that,” Principal Sean Boulton said. 

For the actual teaching and learning process, NMUSD has asked teachers to focus on connecting with students and communicating the curriculum as effectively as possible. They will be using Google Classroom to assign schoolwork and homework and holding virtual classes via Zoom. The grading scale will be reverted back to normal as well. 

“The synchronous instruction will take place in the 45-minute periods that we’ve constructed, and the asynchronous work will be meaningful. The one variable we are going to monitor in the asynchronous work for students is the workload. What I heard from students last year is that there was too much homework,” Principal Boulton said.

Even if Newport Harbor was to reopen at level 2 any time soon, students and staff should expect a very different classroom environment. Besides there being morning and afternoon cohorts, desks will be six feet apart, with regular sanitation schedules maintained by custodians. Each student would be given a school mask and hand sanitizer as well. 

“The best way to make sure that we have the safest environment possible is by making sure we have fewer students per classroom. The only way to do that is to break the classes into smaller sizes, and that would give the opportunity for our staff to clean in-between classes and allow for the ability so that people don’t sit in a desk where someone has recently sat at,” Trustee Barto said. “We are looking at fifteen or sixteen students in a classroom for those cohorts, and we might have to get creative and move outside, for example.”

With updates being sent out almost weekly, both NHHS and NMUSD hope to bring students and staff together during these tough times. Be sure to check out the School Reopening website for more information and to feel free to contact the school or district if you have any questions. 

“My main message to students and staff is that you are loved and that you are not forgotten,” Principal Boulton said. “We are going to get through this.”