There was pumping music, dance teachers and plenty of hugs as one of the first public schools in California opened completely to personal learning on Wednesday, a major milestone in the fight to return to normalcy in the nation’s most populous state, though the masked students reminded that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.
Chief of State of Public Education Tony Thurmond welcomed students from Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista, south of San Diego, near the Mexican border.
“Bienvenidos! Welcome back to school! That was it for my speech,’ Thurmond said to laughter and applause from students and parents gathered in the school yard. “I’m just here to say we’re so proud of you. This is one of the first schools in the entire state of California to be back, and you show everyone in California and in our country that we are learning well, that we are staying safe and that we are supporting our students and families.”
Thurmond sought to allay concerns about the timing of the Chula Vista Elementary School District’s return to full-day, in-person instruction amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections from the more contagious delta variant, including among younger children, for which no vaccine yet. nevertheless approved.
Thurmond said he was confident masks, hand washing and frequent testing of staff and students were enough to allow schools to reopen safely.
With the number of COVID-19 cases rising across the country, school districts across the US are navigating an arduous path forward amid mounting pressure to get kids back in the classroom full-time this school year, despite people’s increasing fatigue from wearing gloves. masks, vaccine rules and social distancing requirements.
California was one of the slowest states in the country to reopen its public schools after the pandemic forced millions of people into online learning for more than a year. When schools reopened, most districts moved to a hybrid model where students went to class in person only a few days a week.
California’s public schools have seen a sharp decline in enrollment this year, in part because many parents place their children in private schools that offer personalized learning.
Thurmond promised public schools could come back even better if everyone does their part to keep kids in the classroom.
The California Department of Public Health said all students and staff must wear masks, issuing a stricter order than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. The federal agency has said masks are only needed indoors for those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended universal masks in schools, even for those who have been vaccinated.
Some parent groups have protested the California school mask requirement, and at least one has threatened to sue. Some districts say they will not enforce the rule, and the state has not indicated that there will be sanctions for those who disobey the order.
Thurmond praised the Chula Vista district’s security measures, including making rapid COVID-19 tests available to every student on a regular basis. He said that’s key until a vaccine becomes available for children under 12, which could happen this fall.
“Those are precautions that will keep us safe and keep our schools open,” Thurmond told reporters after visiting the school.
The desire to return to personal learning was fully apparent on Wednesday. Of the roughly 1,000 students, some 952 have applied to return, said director Debra McLaren.
“It’s exciting,” McLaren exclaimed, dancing to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” blasting from the speakers as students and their families posed for photos in front of the school one sunny morning.
Among them was 6-year-old Ethan, proudly holding a sign introducing himself to his new school, which he couldn’t do in kindergarten because classes were online.
The board listed the things he loved, including the Avengers, guava, and reading.
Roxana Preciado said being required to wear a mask is a small sacrifice if it allows her daughter to attend school every day.
“If we all follow the rules, we’ll be fine,” she said.