Happy 2024! This is our first newsletter of the year and we're thrilled to share that Spotlight Schools received national recognition last month. The New York Times included one of our stories in its article "Local Journalism Worth Reading from 2023." Your hyperlocal newsroom is honored to be included on this list featuring stellar journalism from news outlets working hard to rebuild local news.
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Yours in knowledge,
Jeannette Andruss, Co-founder and Chief Editorial Officer
It's Enrollment Season for Next School Year
O.C. school districts are registering students now for the 2024-25 academic year
Attention parents in Orange County! You might not realize it yet but it’s time to start thinking about the 2024-25 school year. School districts across the region are opening up enrollment for next school year.
For parents of students starting school for the first time or those transitioning from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, this is a time to explore what’s next in your students' educational journey.
While public school students are generally assigned to attend their neighborhood school, districts do offer intradistrict transfers for students wishing to attend another campus within their district boundaries. Students looking to enroll in a public school campus outside their home district can also apply for an interdistrict transfer.
For local school districts, the open enrollment period is an important time to showcase what their campuses are offering, especially as many school districts face declining enrollment and seek to attract more families. In Orange County, the public school student population has declined by nearly 36,000 since 2018-2019, according to EdSource.
School districts including the Anaheim Union High School District and the Ocean View School District are in the process of consolidating campuses due to a drop in the number of students attending their schools.
Enrollment for the 2024-25 school year in the Ocean View School District opens January 26. It has 14 campuses serving TK-8th grade students in Huntington Beach, Westminster, and Midway City. The district is promoting a series of Parent Information Nights in the coming weeks with the tagline: “Come Fall in Love with OVSD.”
Ocean View is one local school district that offers transitional kindergarten next school year to any student who turns four years old by Sept. 1. Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) is a new public school grade level that precedes kindergarten. California has been phasing in UTK for the past several years.
Westminster School District also offers UTK to children turning four by Sept. 1. The district has 17 schools with students from TK-8th grade. The campuses are located in Westminster, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, and Midway City. WSD is holding information nights at each of its elementary schools on January 24.
The Los Alamitos Unified School District is another O.C. district holding an information night for parents as it opens up enrollment. It will host parents of incoming UTK and kindergarten students on Jan. 25. The district has nine campuses located across Seal Beach, Rossmoor, and Los Alamitos.
Students attending public schools in O.C. seeking to leave their district of residence must fill out paperwork from their home district to transfer to a public school outside of their district. Check with your local district for more information.
Find links to enrollment information for all of O.C.'s public school districts at SpotlightSchools.com.
'After School Satan Club' launching at O.C. campus
Plans for club at Truman Benedict Elementary School in San Clemente spark a call to revise the Capistrano Unified School District's policies on use of facilities
The launching of a religious after-school club at an elementary school in San Clemente could lead to changes in how the Capistrano Unified School District treats groups who want to use its facilities when school is not in session.
The After School Satan Club is set to hold its first meeting next month on the campus of Truman Benedict Elementary School in San Clemente. The club is sponsored by The Satanic Temple, a tax-exempt church. The TST website states adherents do not worship any deity, do not believe in “God or the Devil as supernatural forces” and instead view Satan “as a literary figure who represents a metaphorical construct of rejecting tyranny and championing the mind and human spirit.”
The club is launching just weeks after a Good News Club started meeting after school at Truman Benedict Elementary. It’s one of thousands of Bible-focused student groups sponsored by the decades-old Child Evangelism Fellowship.
The local After School Satan Club was initiated by a Truman Benedict Elementary parent who contacted TST with concerns after her child came home with a flyer for the Good News Club, according to June Everett, TST’s National Campaign Director for the After School Satan Club.
“I like to joke that we're like vampires. We only go where we are invited in,” Everett said in a recent phone interview explaining that TST will only open a club on a campus if other religious groups are operating there.
“ASSC exists to provide a safe and inclusive alternative to the religious clubs that use threats of eternal damnation to convert school children to their belief system,” reads the TST website. Everett stressed the group is not interested in converting anyone. “Our goal is not to proselytize or indoctrinate.”
Everett says they have about nine clubs up and running nationwide and they offer activities guided by the group's seven fundamental tenets which include striving to act with compassion, seeking justice, and respecting the freedoms of others, even the freedom to offend.
The club’s launch has sparked questions from parents and at least one CUSD Board Trustee is now scrutinizing how after-school clubs operate in the district.
CUSD Board Member Lisa Davis represents the area that includes Truman Benedict Elementary. At the January 17 meeting of the CUSD Board of Trustees, Davis spoke about the history of religious freedom in the U.S. and how she values religious pluralism but criticized the After School Satan Club and questioned how allowing it was different from the district allowing a Nazi club.
“I would think that the district would not allow the formation of a KKK or a Nazi club under a sense of propriety that neither of them reflect our community values," she said.
“Make no mistake," said Davis, "the satanist group is a hate group organized with a specific purpose to mock and demean Christian beliefs. They can very easily rebrand as an open-minded group, scientific group, or even an atheist group. Choosing to brand themselves as a satanic group serves only to express hate."
Davis asked that staff take a “deep dive” into the board’s policies on use of school facilities, extracurricular activities, and suggested creating a new board policy regarding school clubs to be discussed at a future meeting.
She also suggested the requirement that a club’s title “needs to be descriptive to the activity of the club” and floated the idea of creating at least an hour window between when the school day ends, and after-school clubs can start.
Revising policies in response to the After School Satan Club could impact other after-school groups. That includes the Bible-themed Good News Clubs, which Sue Olson, the Director of the Orange Coast Chapter of CEF, said operate at numerous schools in CUSD.
In a recent phone interview, Olson said requiring an hour-long buffer between school letting out and when after-school activities could start “would be terrible.”
Read the whole story on SpotlightSchools.com.
Gilbert High School students celebrate successful civic engagement project
Top government officials came to Gilbert High School in Anaheim last Wednesday to catch a bus.
It was not a school bus but an Orange County Transportation Agency bus that was now arriving on a schedule suitable to students.
Gilbert High School is an alternative school in the Anaheim Union High School District with a focus on civic engagement.
Students successfully petitioned, then worked with the staff of the Orange County Transportation Authority, to change a bus schedule to better accommodate students.
Students and government officials waited at Bus Stop 46 outside the school on Ball Road as right on time, the honorary bus pulled into the station. Students expressed satisfaction that this small change will make a big difference in many of their lives.
In actuality, it will give them approximately 15 additional minutes to make the bus to get home on time rather than getting home, in some cases 45 minutes to an hour later.
Gilbert Principal Jose Lara says he and the teachers are very proud of what students have been able to accomplish.
“We’re part of a district that champions civic engagement,” said Principal Lara at a ceremony before the bus arrived on its new schedule Wednesday afternoon.
Gilbert is an alternative school that allows students needing to make up credits to do so, said Lara. As a school dedicated to civic engagement, he says the students are surveyed at the beginning of the year to find a project of interest to them, the principal said.
This year, said Lara, “a group of students advocating for themselves let teachers know that transportation was an issue for them. The bus lines and the times they ran by the school; very important to our students.”
At issue was the 2:22 p.m. afternoon OCTA bus. Students said the bell to end school rings shortly before then and there was not enough time to make the bus, causing problems for many students and forcing them to get home late.
"Students have obligations that depend on the buses, many times to get home to younger siblings to care for them,” said student Maggali Rodriguez.
Find out how Gilbert High School students succeeded in their civic engagement project at SpotlightSchools.com.
This story was written and reported by David N. Young
Other stories we're reading
- Two O.C. school districts reach combined $4.8 million settlement with sex abuse survivors The Orange County Register (Subscriber only)
- Spike in vandalism seen at Santa Ana Schools // Santa Ana USD
- State lawmaker seeks to expand the Orange County Board of Education; move elections // Press release from State Sen. Josh Newman
- Orange County Department of Education hosting substitute teacher recruitment Feb. 1 // OCDE Newsroom
- California launches free mental health resources for kids and teens // KCRA
- New Covid-19 rules: students who test positive can return to school if asymptomatic // CalMatters
- How California’s projected budget deficit may impact education // EdSource // Ed100
- Gov. Newsom would veto bill banning tackle football for kids Associated Press
- U.C. Schools enrolled a record number of California residents in fall 2023 // L.A. Times
- Is making the SAT optional misguided? What the research says // The New York Times
- SoCal school’s ‘Golden Raccoon’ program connects students with seniors // ABC7
Happening this Week
Three events are taking place this week that impact local schools, parents, and students.
News Literacy Week
The fifth annual National News Literacy Week is taking place now featuring events that underscore "the vital role of news literacy in a democracy." Check out the free programs and tools that can help you better navigate our modern media landscape so that you're more informed and engaged.
School Choice Week
This weeklong event "aims to raise awareness of the different types of schools and education options available to parents."
That includes a School Choice Fair happening Saturday, Jan. 27 in Anaheim.
The Great Kindness Challenge
Schools and students across Orange County and the nation are taking part in the Great Kindness Challenge, performing good deeds that are focused on spreading goodwill and positivity, reports OCDE Newsroom.
Is your school taking part? Tell us how you're spreading kindness by emailing email@example.com.
One more thing... 📚 Reading Challenge!
The Fullerton School District has launched a "40 Day Reading Challenge" that kicked off January 22 and lasts until March 8. FSD families are encouraged to read 15-30 minutes a day together and share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #fsdlearns.
"This 40-day journey promises to bring us closer, enriching our lives through the power of reading. I’m eager to see how this experience will strengthen our school community," wrote FSD Superintendent Robert Pletka, Ed.D., on the FSD website.
Learn more below and here.
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