Student, teacher opinions over Tuesday’s 2021 reopening of Sunny Hills campus for live classroom instruction remain mixed

Assistant+principal+Hilda+Arredondo+%28right%29+gives+a+wrist+band+to+a+student+on+the+first+day+of+hybrid+learning+last+November+as+part+of+the+school%27s+health+and+safety+protocols.+The+same+procedure+will+be+followed+Tuesday+as+the+campus+will+be+opened+for+the+first+time+in+2021+after+trustees+for+the+Fullerton+Joint+Union+High+School+District+had+unanimously+agreed+to+do+so+during+their+Feb.+2+emergency+meeting.

Aliya Ahmad

Assistant principal Hilda Arredondo (right) gives a wrist band to a student on the first day of hybrid learning last November as part of the school’s health and safety protocols. The same procedure will be followed Tuesday as the campus will be opened for the first time in 2021 after trustees for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District had unanimously agreed to do so during their Feb. 2 emergency meeting.

Kate Yang

This story was updated on Feb. 16 with statistics about the number of students on campus for hybrid learning vs. staying home to learn remotely as well as a quote from a student who originally did not reply to an email request for an interview.

Reaction among Sunny Hills students, parents and teachers remains mixed after trustees for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] unanimously agreed to reopen schools for the first time in 2021 — a move it had delayed since January citing COVID-19 health and safety reasons.

“To be honest, I think it is fine that they are opening it up because it seems like we have gone through the worst part of the virus,” said junior Dylan Desimone, who as part of Cohort A came to classes for live instruction Mondays and Thursdays when the FJUHSD transitioned from remote to hybrid learning from November until the week before final exams in December.

The FJUHSD board had agreed during its December board meeting to start the spring semester in the distance learning model because of the spike in positive coronavirus cases in North Orange County. Many of the trustees had resisted calls to reopen schools from some students and parents who spoke to the board during its public comment portion of meetings in January. 

It wasn’t until the Feb. 2 emergency board meeting that the board — looking at a downward trend in the number of positive COVID-19 cases — agreed it was time to go back to hybrid learning 2.0.

Desimone said he is opting to return to campus again Tuesday after discussing it with his mother, who strongly believes he should receive live classroom instruction. As of the first day of hybrid learning 2.0, assistant principal Melissa Stinson said 373 students have signed up for Cohort A to come to campus on Mondays and Thursdays, while 314 are in Cohort B to come to campus on Tuesdays and Fridays. More than 70% at 1,695 have decided to remain at home for remote learning.

“I am in 100% support of schools opening again,” Shelly Desimone said. “An essential part of a student’s education is experiencing social interaction, and that is something they don’t get in distance learning.”

Sophomore Natania Spradley and her younger sister Claire, a freshman, were among the only Sunny Hills students who were willing to speak to the board in past Zoom meetings, imploring trustees to switch back from distance to hybrid learning and citing concerns about rampant cheating among their peers during distance learning.

“I am excited to safely return to campus and so grateful to our wonderful teachers and staff for all the effort they have put in to make this possible,” Spradley said Tuesday.

Student board member senior Jenna Beining, who had switched her position from staying in distance learning in early January to reopening schools by the end of the month, did not return The Accolade’s email request for an interview.

Some students, however, still plan to stay home to learn because they feel that’s a safer option since the coronavirus is still spreading and not all teachers have received the COVID-19 vaccination.

Speaking from what he had witnessed while attending live classroom instruction in Cohort A last November, senior Andrew Miller questioned how much school officials will enforce Sunny Hills’ health and safety protocols this time around.

“A lot of students [on campus last November and December] did not care about social distancing,” Miller said. “I feel safer not being around so many people at a time because even if they were wearing masks, they still weren’t distanced at all.”

The senior said he plans to switch from Cohort A to Cohort C before Tuesday’s reopening so he can continue learning from home without having to risk the possibility of contracting the coronavirus even though COVID-19 transmission rates among students is very low.

Though not surprised by the board’s decision to reopen campuses, Miller doubts whether such a measure would curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is going to put us in the same boat we were in last year with mandatory quarantine and fast spread of the disease,” he said.

Like Miller, junior Eryka Cua is also against the board’s decision and is fearful of its consequences.

“Schools should not have been open at all,” said Cua, who plans to remain in Cohort C. “It puts so many lives at risk to attend even a few times a week, and even though I appreciate the precautions and safety measurements the board makes, it still promotes the spread of COVID-19.”

Cua chose to stay home in Cohort C when the district first reopened schools in November of last year and still strongly believes it is unsafe for students to return even with statistics showing a decline in coronavirus cases. 

“Cases dropping shouldn’t mean it’s OK to suddenly go back when there are still so many cases and deaths,” she said. “As long as school boards keep thinking it’s OK to open up school every once in awhile, COVID-19 will continue to spike up regardless of precautions.” 

Math Department chairwoman and teacher Mariam Tan, who had voiced opposition to reopening schools at the Feb. 2 emergency board meeting, said she respects the board’s decision.

“While I don’t feel it is what is best for our community, the board’s decision does not make me angry or scared or sad,” Tan said. “At his point, with so few in-person students on campus, I am not as worried about my personal safety.” 

The instructor also believes mounting community pressure also had a hand in the trustees’ actions.

“I know that the school board is feeling very pressured to return to hybrid learning, and they are trying their best to make reasonable and responsible decisions,” Tan said. “There are very outspoken members of our community who have a variety of reasons why they think that we must return to in-person learning as soon as possible. Respectfully, my priorities — while equally student-centered — are different.”

Like with the situation among students, not all Sunny Hills teachers are of the same mindset as Tan.

“I am thankful for the board’s decision, but my hope was that we had a date to come back and that that date would be sooner rather than later,” said English teacher Suzanne Boxdorfer, who had joined with English Department chairman Scott Rosenkranz and his wife in speaking in favor of reopening schools to the board at the Feb. 2 meeting though they shared their comments to trustees at different times. “But I am fine with coming back on the 16th and think it gives both students and teachers time to adjust their schedules.”