School Notes

No changes to masking requirements, but OC Superintendents united in their efforts

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced earlier this week that while there are no changes to school masking requirements, it’s not a question of if, but when. Masking requirements for schools will be reassessed on February 28.

Dr. Ghaly did not identify a specific threshold for lifting the requirement but did say that the state will reassess case rates, positivity percentages, hospitalizations and vaccine rates.

Last week a coalition of Orange County superintendents, including Newport-Mesa Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith, issued a statement asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health to announce a criteria for easing school masking requirements and other COVID-19 protocols based on countywide health data.

Here is the full statement from Orange County superintendents:

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Orange County’s 29 school districts banded together and coordinated closely with the OC Health Care Agency (HCA) to ensure the highest levels of safety for our students, staff and communities. This unified approach allowed us to rapidly share information and best practices as we endured four waves of the virus, multiple variants and a steady stream of new guidance from local, state and national agencies. It also positioned our schools as models for how to safely reopen – and stay open – for in-person instruction. Now, with two years of data points from which to draw, it is time to have a conversation about what comes next.

In Orange County and across the United States, COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations are falling rapidly in the wake of the recent Omicron spike. Outcomes in other countries that have experienced Omicron suggest the worst of the pandemic is behind us, with many nations lifting restrictions. Even California has announced that it will allow its broad indoor mask mandate to expire after Feb. 15, and numerous experts believe we are now headed toward an endemic stage, in which we live with a diminished version of the virus. Based on these trends, and following discussions with our HCA partners, our coalition of Orange County superintendents is asking Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to publicly announce a reasonable timeline for easing school masking requirements and other restrictive protocols, using well-established countywide health metrics as the basis.

As school district leaders, we are legally required to follow public health directives set forth by the governor, the state’s public health department and the OC Health Care Agency. Any actions to the contrary risk school closures. Moreover, we believe that safety protocols such as face coverings, while sometimes polarizing, have proven effective in reducing school-based transmission, which in turn allowed our campuses to remain open. Yet these steps, including the masking rules, were not intended to be permanent adaptations to our environment. These policies were introduced to blunt waves of infections that threatened to overrun our health care systems and close our schools. Students and staff did their part – to extraordinary degrees. Now, we must acknowledge that changing circumstances and clear data trends warrant a re-examination of our approach to school safety, if not a full exit strategy and a return to more normal school operations.

We believe overall hospitalization rates and ICU capacities represent an accurate picture of the threat this virus poses to schools and communities, but we would defer to the expertise of the HCA and the CDPH to establish reliable benchmarks that can be used as the basis for easing restrictions. We also understand that there always exists the potential for new variants or viruses that may renew calls to flatten the curve.

From the onset of this public health crisis, the superintendents of Orange County have been clear-eyed and united behind the goal of providing safe, welcoming and equitable learning environments for students. Two years later, that remains unchanged, as does our commitment to working with our families, employees, public health partners and community members to move our county forward together.

Dual Immersion program for Spanish and Mandarin for incoming kindergartners

Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) offers Spanish and Mandarin Dual Immersion Programs to prepare the next generation of bilingual and biliterate global citizens. 

Applications for 2022-2023 incoming kindergarteners are open. Interested families should complete the online Dual Immersion Program application available on the Dual Immersion website

The Mandarin Immersion at College Park Elementary and Spanish Immersion at Whittier Elementary include everything a traditional class offers, but in both languages.

There are multiple educational and career benefits that multilingual students accrue, including:

–Academic achievement: Students attain high levels of academic achievement in both languages due to increased cognitive skills and problem-solving abilities.

–Bilingualism & biliteracy: Students acquire strategic thinking, listening,

speaking, reading and writing proficiency in both languages.

–Sociocultural competence: Students develop positive attitudes and

appreciation of world languages and cultures in our global society.

Applicants will be notified after May 1, 2022 of their child’s acceptance or waitlist placement.