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Orange County School Of The Arts Plans To Reopen Despite Faculty Concerns

The Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) has set a target date of Nov. 4 for the partial reopening of their school, prompting concern from instructors given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the county. 

Social distancing and mandatory masks, among other protocols, have changed the outlook on what the reopening of schools will look like. Many teachers and faculty fear that instating these protocols will affect the learning environment. 

“Most classrooms would only be able to safely accommodate 10 students,” said a teacher in an interview with the Voice of OC

“The OCSA Administrative Team, in conjunction with the OCSA Board of Trustees, has set a target date to return to in-person learning for Wednesday, Nov. 4 (the start of our third grading period), provided the public health environment remains favorable in our community,” the school said in a statement on Oct. 1.

Orange County has seen a decrease in its infection rates and has since moved to a less restrictive tier. According to the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” many non-essential indoor businesses will continue to remain closed. 

“Blueprint for a Safer Economy” is a multi-level system instituted by California that ranks each county in respect to their COVID-19 cases. The system allows for citizens to easily check what tier their county is in and see what businesses are allowed to reopen. For more information, check out the guidelines here.

However, schools throughout the state have been given permission to reopen depending on their tier of cases. 

“Schools may reopen fully for in-person instruction. Local school officials will decide whether and when that will occur,” Blueprint for a Safer Economy stated on their website.

The decision to reopen schools is left to each individual school and their board of directors. 

OCSA is not the only school to receive pushback from their teachers. Early October, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District had a meeting to discuss the reopening of their schools. However, they received an outpour of concerns from teachers all across the district and ultimately decided to delay the reopening of schools. Petitions to postpone the county’s reopening of schools have also arisen in the Irvine Unified School District and Saddleback Valley Unified School District. 

Not all school board members have been swayed by the concerns of their faculty. Before the school year began, Capistrano Unified School District planned on reopening their school in a hybrid fashion, similar to OCSA’s proposed plan. Despite receiving pushback from their faculty and the parents of their students, the school board continued with their reopening plans.

Teachers and parents have voiced their concerns regarding the hybrid outline and regulations released by OCSA, stating that the outline itself is too broad. 

“I oppose the reopening of OCSA until a [memorandum of understanding] is crafted … and is voted on and approved by the OCSA members,” said a math teacher in an interview with the Voice of OC.

COVID-19 transmissions across Orange County have slowed down tremendously. However, the overall numbers are still prevalent in the discussion of reopening the economy. As of Nov. 8, Orange County has had 63,798 cases and a total of 1,506 deaths

Dr. Ralph Opacic, founder of OCSA, has spearheaded the conversation and planning of the school’s reopening. 

“When we surveyed our families, we found that more than 40% of OCSA students have expressed their preference to return to campus in a hybrid/in-person learning environment. We are doing everything in our power to meet the needs of our constituents, while also ensuring the safety of faculty, students and staff,” Opacic stated in a letter

The push to reopen has not been completely discouraged. Tustin Memorial Academy instated a hybrid learning system on Sept. 24. In an interview, a parent vocalized how difficult online learning has been for his children and how the reopening has been a positive transition for his family. 

“At first, I had my concerns with the rising number of cases across the country. But after reading and attending virtual meetings that addressed how they would reopen schools safely, I felt a lot better. Classes are split in a.m. and p.m. time slots so only half of the students are physically at school at a given time,” the parent said. 

The hybrid learning schedule is similar to OCSA’s proposed schedule. The guidelines and restrictions listed on their websites are also comparable. The main difference is Tustin Memorial Academy’s three-phase plan to reopen.

According to the parent, Tustin Memorial’s safety measures include “plexiglass partitions between students and they are seated at least six feet apart. They are required to wear masks and constantly wash and sanitize their hands. Also, at the start of class, there are temperature and symptom checks before they are allowed into class.”

Though the teachers of OCSA have voiced concerns about the students’ education being affected by the hybrid system, the parent stated that he “likes that this model gives them the opportunity for real social human interaction instead of a virtual screen. My kids have responded to this model a lot better than when they were 100% virtual.”

On Oct. 16, OCSA released a statement on their website responding to the concerns of their faculty and parents. New additions to the guidelines include the implementation of plexiglass barriers between teacher and student desks, the upgrade of HVAC filters and requirement of masks regardless of being more than six feet apart. 

Even with the new additions, OCSA continued to receive pushback on their proposed reopening. In the latest letter released on Oct. 20, the school board responded to concerns by providing a possible revised timeline.

“As the direction of the Board of Trustees, OCSA Leadership is entering negotiations with the Orange County School of the Arts Teacher Association (OCSATA) this week, with the intent to achieve an approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between both parties. Once an MOU has been approved, the Board of Trustees will need to vote in order to make any official changes to OCSA’s reopening plans,” the letter stated

As of Nov. 9, no revisions to OCSA’s reopening have been made. 

Amy Duong is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at