With cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant rising, hundreds of thousands of students — some who are not vaccinated or are too young to be vaccinated — returned to in-person learning in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools after more than a year of learning online.

The process to enter the schools on the first day increased the anxiety, and confused many parents.

“It was just chaos,” said Juanita Garcia, speaking about her experience dropping off her grandson Caprice Garcia, an 11th grader, at San Fernando High School on Monday, Aug. 16.

She said the line to get Caprice into the school wrapped around the block and there were two lines — one for kids who had been previously tested and one for others who had not. The untested students received a rapid COVID-19 test on the premises, which increased Garcia’s already high level of anxiety.

“I’m not completely convinced this is the best, but we have to try it. But I have my worries,” she said. “The district is too big, there are too many kids at the schools, and the planning is very poor.”

However, Garcia also felt that online learning had too many distractions, and that her grandson was having trouble concentrating.

“Emotionally, the kids need to leave the (house) where they feel like prisoners,” she said. “He wanted to come back. He was getting too anxious.”

The fact that not all kids are tested or vaccinated causes apprehension for Garcia. Even with the weekly testing, she said, there’s still a chance the results might take a while to receive and during that time a sick student could be infecting others.

“We’re really between a rock and a hard place. We need them to go to school, but the risk is there,” Garcia said.

“It’s a big uncertainty anyway you look at it.”

With the district requiring students and staff to undergo COVID-19 testing, baseline screening conducted in the past two weeks uncovered more than 3,600 positive cases, City News Service reported.

According to statistics released late Monday, the first day of fall classes in the LAUSD, roughly 81% of the district’s students underwent baseline COVID testing between Aug. 2-15, and 3,255 of them tested positive for the virus. That’s a testing-positivity rate of roughly 0.8%.

A total of 399 cases were found among district employees, for a positivity rate of 0.6%, according to the district.

The district will require weekly COVID testing for students and employees, regardless of their vaccination status. All district employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15.

Happy To Return

Maritza Leyva’s kids didn’t need much prodding to return to school. They were happy to do so.

Her 17-year-old son attended PUC Community Charter in Pacoima earlier in the summer to complete some work. Her 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son were also attending classes at Pacoima Charter School during the summer, so Leyva feels confident LAUSD has implemented enough measures to keep kids safe.

“Every week they get tested and they don’t let parents or anyone else (from outside) into the school,” she said.

She said her children had a bad time with online learning, especially her daughter.

“My daughter got frustrated. She got anxiety. She got to the point where she got really desperate,” Leyva said. “She kept asking to go back to school.”

She added her son also liked going back into the classroom and she sees that PUC custodians are cleaning and disinfecting the campus often, something that gives her confidence her kids will be fine.

Staying Online

But not everyone is returning to in-person learning. Students can continue at-home distance learning or enroll in independent studies.

Students who wanted to remain at home had until Aug. 6 to register for the LAUSD’s online education program called City of Angels, an independent study program.

According to LAUSD, families that chose distance learning would take a temporary leave from their current school enroll in the City of Angels, which has different teachers and lesson plans. District officials said a student’s spot would be saved if or when they decide to return to in-person instruction.

LAUSD reported that some 12,500 students (about 3% of the entire student body population) opted for independent studies.

Roxann Nazario’s 13-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is one of them.

The eighth grader is staying online partly because of COVID-19, and also because she prefers it that way.

“Going to school gives her a lot of anxiety, especially socially,” the Sylmar resident said.

Scarlett was attending Girls Athletic Leadership School in Panorama City when the pandemic began, but the independent studies courses suit her.

“It went really well in the spring of last year,” Nazario says.

“She had a lot independence. She needed a little help with math, but I helped her with that and her grades went up.”

Then the all-girls school switched to online Zoom classes in the fall and Scarlett began to feel “very burned out, very tired,” Nazario said. They decided to try independent studies because Scarlett liked the option of doing the assignments at her own pace and “getting more ownership for her work.”

They looked at different options and decided to register with iLead, a charter school based in the Santa Clarita Valley. Scarlett will begin school the week of Aug. 23.

She doesn’t know if they’ll continue using this learning model for high school, but are opting for it now because of the resurgence of COVID-19.

“My daughter has a lot of fears about going to campus. She’s very scared to go into public places,” Nazario said. “Kids are very aware of what’s going on. She’s not ready to set foot on campus.”

“I think she could have a breakdown if I made her.”

For more information about the LAUSD online learning option, visit https://achieve.lausd.net/onlinelearning. For more information about independent studies, visit https://ileadschools.org.