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Orinda USD Officials Protest State School Reopening Guidelines, Propose Equitable Solution
Posted 1/27/21

PRESS RELEASE

Orinda, CA, January 26, 2021


The Board of Trustees of the Orinda Union School District submitted a letter of protest to Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Department of Public Health and related state and county agencies on Monday, asserting that recently released state guidelines for school reopening unfairly prevent some public school districts from reopening while allowing others to open for in-person learning.


The crux of the protest focuses on the distinction in the guidelines between those schools categorized as “open” – because they have previously opened for in-person learning in at least one grade level – and those seeking to “reopen” but have not previously delivered in-person instruction to the general student population since the onset of the pandemic.


“[The Guidance] is inequitable in that it creates two rigid and arbitrary classes of schools – those already open, and those seeking to reopen,” reads the protest letter cosigned by all five elected trustees of the Orinda Union School District.


“The reopen class of schools unfairly groups districts with carefully prepared opening plans with those districts not yet prepared to open, and forces the districts that are “ready to safely open” with further obstacles presented for the first time in the Guidance. It is plainly unjust and contrary to the stated purpose of the Guidance to allow thousands of students to remain in classrooms under one set of standards while subjecting all other schools [to new standards], no matter their level of safety preparation...”


Beginning in May 2020, Orinda USD convened a School Year Advisory Group composed of parents, teachers, principals, district administrators and healthcare professionals to research best practices, provide guidance and input on safety, learning, social/emotional wellness, childcare, and communication. This work has resulted in a comprehensive safety and reopening plan entitled OPEN: Orinda’s Path to Education Now, an evolving document that has been regularly updated as new guidance emerges from the county and state.


“Orinda schools have a thorough, thoughtful and carefully crafted plan to begin safely providing in-person learning options for our students,” said Orinda USD Trustee Hillary Weiner.


“Our plans for resuming in-person learning options meet or exceed those plans in schools that have already reopened” Trustee Jason Kaune added. “To deny our students and families an option for in-person learning simply because our schools were not previously open at some arbitrary point in time defies all logic.”


Orinda USD’s protest letter offers two simple solutions to the identified shortcomings in the state guidelines: (1) eliminate the distinction between “open” and “reopening” schools and instead focus on each school district’s preparedness for safe return to in-person learning, or (2) create a third category of school districts that are “ready to safely reopen” and can demonstrate a comprehensive plan to meet state health and safety standards.


“We have a detailed plan to bring those students who choose to return to our school campuses in the hybrid model back while adhering to physical distancing and other strict safety protocols,” Orinda USD Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Seaton said. “We have the face coverings, protective gear, air purifiers for every classroom, health screenings and testing for students and staff, proven hygiene practices and plans for contract tracing as needed. We also have a plan to serve those students who are not comfortable returning to in-person learning at this time. In short, we’re ready.”


A growing consensus of health experts agree that schools can reopen safely with the right protocols in place. Orinda’s OPEN Plan is based on the recommended health and safety protocols.


The protest letter requests a meeting with the governor’s office and state health officials to engage in meaningful and impactful dialogue to “give us, and similarly situated schools throughout our state, the opportunity to safely open.”
 


About the Orinda Union School District

Orinda Union School District is one of the highest performing school districts in the State of California. Orinda USD serves approximately 2,500 students from transitional kindergarten to eighth grade at five school campuses— four elementary schools and one middle school. Three Orinda USD schools were recently recognized as California Distinguished Schools: Del Rey Elementary (2018), Wagner Ranch Elementary (2018), and Glorietta Elementary (2018). In 2015, Orinda Intermediate School was honored as a California Gold Ribbon School, and Del Rey Elementary School was named a National Blue Ribbon School. All five Orinda USD schools were honored by the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence as California Honor Roll Schools based on student achievement data. In addition to outstanding students and excellent teachers and staff, Orinda Union School District is extremely fortunate to have a high level of parental involvement in the schools and strong community partnerships as evidenced by the support provided by the Orinda Network for Education (ONE), Parent Clubs, and the City of Orinda. More information about Orinda USD is available at http://www.orindaschools.org.