Orange County School Reopening Recommendations Delayed to September 22

Jenny Won, Opinion Editor

The Orange County Health Agency announced on Sept. 1 that any possible school reopenings have been extended to Sept. 22 at the earliest, in accordance with the new COVID-19 progress tracking system released by the California Department of Public Health. IUSD Communications sent an email also on Sept. 1 that plans to reopen are not yet confirmed, but a detailed update including Irvine Unified schools’ start date for in-person instruction will be sent to families in the near future. 

The new state framework for reopening, known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, separates counties based on a four-tiered system to track the spread of COVID-19. 

Orange County is currently ranked purple, or “widespread,” which is the highest tier. The purple tier indicates that the county is seeing more than seven daily new cases per 100 thousand people and more than 8% positive tests, according to the blueprint. 

Rates will need to drop to 4-7 daily new cases and 5% to 8% positive tests for Orange County to enter the second tier: red, or “substantial.”

Schools in “purple” counties must remain closed for in-person instruction and may only reopen after being in the red tier for more than two weeks. Orange County is now predicted to be “red” by Sept. 8 if current trends continue. 

The OC Health Agency announced Sept. 1 via Twitter that the county could be in a position to reopen schools on Sept. 22 at the earliest. Previously, IUSD schools had planned to reopen Sept. 8, two weeks after Orange County was removed from the state monitoring list, according to the OC Register.

“Moving things to the 22nd allows us to see how the Orange County community behaves through the Labor Day weekend and gives our staff a bit more time to figure out how they will make the adjustment to in-person teaching as smoothly as possible,” principal John Pehrson said. “[Our biggest priority is] staff and student safety. Every idea within reason is, and will continue to be, considered.”

The decision to reopen schools remains a controversial decision in not only Orange County but also school districts across the country. 

Trustees of the Orange County Department of Education filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom on July 28, claiming that digital distance learning infringed on students’ constitutional rights to equal education, according to the OC Register. Meanwhile, teachers’ unions in major districts in Chicago, New York and other cities are protesting in a series of strikes and lawsuits due to the threat of in-person instruction on student and staff safety, according to the New York Times.

Due to the frequently changing nature of the situation, students should not expect the Sept. 22 date to be a firm decision. The most accurate source for updates is the IUSD COVID-19 Resource Page. The Portola Pilot will maintain continuous coverage on any major local decisions regarding COVID-19.