On July 13th, the Orange County Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve back-to-school guidelines, without any mask or physical distancing mandates.

The only Board member who opposed the guidelines, Beckie Gomez, was also the only Board member who wore a mask at the dais during the meeting.

Gomez expressed concern over the 36-page report the Board used for their guidelines, which failed to cite evidence backing up some of the claims contained within the report.

Thousands of concerned citizens watched the meeting on Zoom and YouTube, with many submitting written comments.  There were also in-person comments made from those who were able to safely attend the meeting.

In the end, the Board’s decision is not binding and individual school districts will be allowed to make their own reopening decisions on whether masks and physical distancing will be implemented.

The decision has elicited a tremendous amount of skepticism online, with many Irvine residents advocating for schools to move towards distance learning this fall.

Irvine Unified School District released the following statement in response to the Orange County Board of Education’s vote:

“In the wake of the Orange County Board of Education’s meeting on July 13, in which they approved a white paper with alternative recommendations for reopening schools, there has been some confusion over their role as it relates to OC schools and guidelines for the upcoming school year.  To be clear, IUSD is not governed by the OC Board of Education and our District will not follow their non-binding recommendations for the 2020-21 school year.  It should also be noted that the five-member Orange County Board of Education has separate responsibilities from the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE).

OCDE staff and County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares have worked with local school district leaders to develop “Orange County Together: A guide to safely reopening schools in the COVID-19 era,” which is in alignment with the California Department of Public Health guidelines.  OCDE guidelines for OC schools, including IUSD, stress the importance of social distancing and face coverings.  Both IUSD and OCDE are 100 percent committed to following and sharing the guidance of the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency.”

The IUSD Board of Education will be meeting on July 14th to further discuss their plans.

Joel Smith