The Huntington Beach Union High School District will temporarily return to 100% distance learning when its classes resume Monday after the winter break.

The school district announced the decision Thursday.

Distance learning will remain its exclusive method of education through the end of the semester, Jan. 29. Students had been learning under a hybrid of some in-person instruction and some distance learning.

The rate of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Orange County has been increasing in recent weeks and several school boards have recently made the same decision.

“We have been closely monitoring local, state and federal public health guidance and data regarding the spread of COVID-19,” the district said Thursday in a letter sent to students’ families. “With the recent extension of the California stay-at-home order on Dec. 29, and in consultation with the feeder school districts, school nurses and Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, the HBUHSD Board of Trustees have voted to temporarily return HBUHSD students to a 100% distance learning instructional program.”

District officials said some activities such as athletics and visual performing arts would continue outdoors and physically distanced.

The district serves 16,188 students at eight high schools and one adult school.

Craig Pazanti, a science teacher of 15 years at Huntington Beach High, said he expected the board’s decision.

“I think our school district followed what a lot of districts are doing,” said Pazanti, noting that neighboring Newport-Mesa Unified School District decided two weeks ago to employ distance learning exclusively when school resumes there after winter break. “And safety has to be the No. 1 issue.”

Edison High history teacher Jeff Harrell also anticipated a distance-learning-only January.

“You saw it coming,” said Harrell who has been teaching at Edison for 11 years. “Once surrounding districts like Newport went with distance learning we were kind of ready for this.”

Harrell, Pazanti and Marina High teacher Nick Racklin said they would prefer to be in the classroom with students.

“I’m low risk (for COVID-related illness) and so is my family, so it didn’t bother me to go back to the classroom,” said Racklin, who teaches algebra and physical education and has been a Marina teacher for seven years. “And it wasn’t like we had a full classroom of 19 kids or whatever this semester. I had only five or six kids in the room every day.”

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