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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

As Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 might prove to be another interesting year in education.

CUSD Board of Trustees President Judy Bullockus recently spoke with The Capistrano Dispatch about the year ahead, saying she believes 2021 will be a year in which CUSD continues to “sail the ship through the storm.”

Bullockus knows there is the question of whether there will be traditional graduation ceremonies for senior students, and she said Superintendent Kirsten Vital has her “hand on the pulse” of everything going on and is in regular contact with other superintendents.

There is the possibility the current hybrid model—which, in part, allows students to either be on campus for in-person learning or take online classes from home—will remain in place. Bullockus anticipates some families will stay with online learning until they feel safe sending kids back to the classroom. Campuses are expected to remain open for face-to-face classes.

San Juan Hills High School student Siena Chacón demonstrates what virtual learning is like on her computer. The district’s current hybrid education model, offering both in-person and online learning, is expected to remain in place this year. Photo: Collin Breaux

“We don’t know what’s in store for us,” Bullockus said of ever-changing conditions, including how expected incoming vaccines could change the educational landscape. “We’re all just waiting to see.”

The district will continue fine-tuning their learning options and virtual instruction, Bullockus said. Particular attention will continue to go to special education and lower-income students, including on programs to help kids who have fallen behind. The district is also trying to figure out how extracurricular clubs—such as for sports and arts—can safely meet, when able to do so under health guidelines.

More feedback surveys are being sent out to families to get their perspective on learning and current school operations. The feedback helps CUSD as they make decisions going forward, Bullockus said.

“We are listening,” Bullockus said. “We do want the feedback.”

CUSD will also navigate budgetary concerns during what Bullockus expects to be a tight year, due to economic impacts of the health crisis. The state and effects of CUSD’s finances will depend on the governor’s state budget, details of which are being finalized.

Fiscal woes will also have to factor into a loss of student enrollment. Layoffs are possible, though the extent or depth of such is currently unknown, Bullockus said.

“We are looking really lean, and certainly we’re already looking at where we’re cutting, where we’ll let natural attrition happen,” Bullockus said. “We will have to staff according to our enrollment.”

CARES Act funding that the district received has already been spent on protective supplies and equipment, Bullockus said.

This year will also be the first full year on the board for new Trustees Lisa Davis and Pamela Braunstein, who respectively won last year’s elections for seats in Areas 3 and 2. Bullockus looks forward to working with the new trustees, and the general board, which she said will bring a variety of perspectives and specialty areas of focus.

“I think it’s exciting to have Lisa and Pamela, both highly respected in their communities,” Bullockus said.

CUSD has done well overall in responding to the pandemic, Bullockus said. The district works with health officials and has a dashboard tracking active cases at schools.

Bullockus asked people to be gracious, patient, and kind as the district and everyone else continue dealing with the coronavirus crisis. One positive development that emerged from the new way of life has been increased involvement from local educators and the community during the online school board meetings, Bullockus said.

“That’s one of the silver linings—I think—is we’ve got greater input,” Bullockus said.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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