The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) this week began reopening its schools that had been closed more than a year because of the ongoing pandemic.
Some, like the Harding Elementary School in Sylmar, provided a rousing reception for their first incoming students. A handful of kids — all wearing face masks — were met with warm greetings by staff, balloons, and a large banner welcoming them on Tuesday, April 13.
Harding and all other district elementary schools that reopened are slowly adding their students back on school grounds. Kindergartners and first-graders came back on Tuesday. Second- and third graders returned on Wednesday. Fourth- and fifth-graders will return today, April 15. The schools will operate on limited hours, and prioritize the youngest students.
Edmund Avyezian, who brought his son — a first-grader — to Harding, said he was happy for him. “And for us too,” Avyezian said. “(Online learning) gets a little boring.”
He said he was not worried about sending him back to the classroom for in-person learning, at least for a few hours.
“I hope they are professional,” Avyezian said, referring to the school staff. “I believe they are professional.”
Evelyn Camacho had walked with her son, who attends kindergarten there, to the campus.
“He’s excited to see all of the balloons and everything,” she said. “He even asked me if it was his birthday.”
Camacho did not have many qualms about her son going back to school.
“In his class there are not so many students, and he’s only here for a couple of hours,” she said. “They went over all the (safety) protocols. If anything happens, I live really close by.”
Camacho noted that while her son was doing fine with online learning, “I have to help him a lot. So it’s hard also on the parents. But he was learning his words and letters.”
She said her son was “really happy” to be heading back into the classroom.
“He even got new shoes. It was like the first day of school,” Camacho said.
Increased Safety Protocols
More than 70 LAUSD elementary schools and early education centers opened on Tuesday. They had additional protocols, including social distancing areas inside and outside of classrooms and the wearing of masks. There will also be free COVID-19 testing for students and staff each week at all the elementary schools and early education centers that opened this week.
“It’s our solemn and serious commitment to make sure we do this in the safest way possible,” said Superintendent Austin Beutner, who visited several campuses on Tuesday.
One of those campuses was Noble Avenue Elementary School in North Hills. Principal Esther Leon said there would normally be 289 kindergarten and first-grade students on campus. On Tuesday she and her staff were anticipating 89 returning students. A total of 47 kindergarten and first-grade students showed up and she was thrilled — not only for those who came to school but how smoothly things ran on the first day.
“I could not have asked for things to go [any better than] they did,” Leon said. “My biggest concern was ‘Daily Pass’ (an app used by the district to determine if students, teachers and staff are healthy enough to enter the school grounds). A lot of people in my community don’t have access to printers and [may struggle with technology]. It’s a new system for everybody, including me.
“But it went smooth, too. If the parents didn’t have a Daily Pass, at least at my school they had set up an alternate way for students to answer the health questions, get their temperature taken, and come into the school.”
She is hopeful another spike in new COVID-19 cases or variants of the virus will not emerge and shut down schools again. But she is also confident that people are better prepared now to handle what comes their way.
“I always tell my staff that life can make you or break you,” Leon said. “You can choose to be better or bitter. For me, I believe we’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And as cheesy as this can sound, we’re truly in this together.”
Northridge Charter School Reopens
Magnolia Science Academy-7, a public independent charter elementary school in Northridge, welcomed back students on Monday, April 12.
“I felt a lot of emotions,” said MSA Principal Meagan Wittek, as she and other staff watched 70 young people finding their classrooms. “First, just being relieved we were able to do it, a year ago, six months ago, even a month ago, it would have seemed almost impossible to figure out how to do school in a new setting, with all the new restrictions.
“But as they walked in with their brand-new water bottles and masks we gave them — and tennis shoes, backpacks and smiling eyes — it was a sense of relief. We were all excited and overwhelmed to welcome them back and know we could do it in a safe, healthy, and kind and caring way where they felt comfortable.”
Wittek said among the improvements at her school was an upgraded air-filter system and plexiglass barriers between all desks — “including teachers and staff” — as well as painted directional lines throughout the campus for social distancing. They’ve also added a nurse and extra custodial workers.
Students can receive in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. All instruction on Wednesday would be online, Wittek said, as the campus undergoes deep cleaning and sanitizing.
She said approximately half of the total school population is coming back.
“What was expressed to us (through surveys) was some parents are still not comfortable yet about sending their kids to school. And the schedule we’re offering didn’t work for all families,” Wittek said. “We’re a lower income school; we have a lot of families whose parents are essential workers and out of the home. They didn’t have the flexibility to have their children only here a half-day or two days a week.”
One parent, Emmalee Garcia, who took her son Eli to school on Monday, said she noticed “an immediate change” in the attitude of her kindergartner.
“There was a new energy in going to school that we had been losing (staying at home),” Garcia said. “Had I not seen that, I might have felt differently about sending him back. And I felt the same thing picking him up from school. He was much happier.
“We were definitely at a point that, as the online learning went on and on, he definitely wasn’t excited about going to school on the computer. But when I picked him up and asked him about his day, he just screamed, ‘it was awesome!’ I know it is better for him, mentally and socially; that the risk is minimal, and the benefit is so much greater.”
Francisco Castro contributed to this story.
Los Angeles Unified COVID-19 testing centers are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, call the Family Hotline at (213) 443-1300. For details about receiving a free vaccination at a school, call the Family Vaccination Hotline at (213) 328-3958.
LAUSD’s food distribution programs will continue, with details available at lastudentsmostinneed.org. However, Grab & Go Food Centers are closing. April 9 was the final day for 22 of the school-based food centers, and the remaining 41 sites will close this Friday, April 16.