Districts, families react to news that schools are reopening

Principal Sue Bett places playcards indicating where classes are to line up outside West Creek Academy in Santa Clarita. Dan Watson/The Signal

After the Los Angeles County Department of Education made a late-night announcement Monday that schools could reopen for TK-6 grade students, parents and school districts around the Santa Clarita Valley began to put their return-to-campus plans into action. 

And while districts worked to deal with what appeared to be a sudden announcement, some parents remained divided on whether their children would be returning to in-person learning, given their concerns over COVID-19. 

On Tuesday, three of the four elementary school districts sent out letters to their parents informing them of the latest development and that some grades could be back as early as next week. 

“Late last night, the Newhall School District received official direction from the L.A. County Department of Public Health that all schools in L.A. County are now authorized to reopen based on the COVID positivity rate being below 25 per 100,000 for the past five days,” read a letter authored by Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. “Our transition plan will focus on acclimating our youngest students to our sites for the very first time, teaching routines, procedures, and showing them the school site in a safe, socially distant manner. This soft opening will help set up all students for success as we launch their first in-person classroom experience.”

The district has said that its TK/K and preschool students will return to campus Feb. 22; first- and second-graders will return Feb. 24; and the third to sixth grades will return March 1. 

The Castaic Union School District announced a similar rollout. Its third- and fourth-graders will return March 1, and the fifth- and sixth-graders are set to return March 8. 

Sulphur Springs Union School District officials confirmed Tuesday that they’d have some of the first-graders and TK students return Feb. 22, the remainder of them return Feb. 25 along with second-graders and some of their third-grade classes. The remaining third-, fourth- and some fifth-graders will return March 1, and the remaining fifth- and sixth-graders will be returning March 4. 

Saugus Union School District officials said they haven’t made a formal announcement on returning, but added that a governing board meeting set for Thursday will discuss reopening campuses for all grades. 

With respect to the announcement itself, school district officials said Tuesday morning that while they’ve been preparing for the return of students to campuses since last year, the timing of the announcement by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was “shocking.” 

“I will say that each time we add a group of people to the campus, it changes the dynamic of the campus, and our ability to implement the safety protocols drastically,” said Colleen Hawkins, the superintendent for the Saugus Union School District. “And so there’s always little adjustments that need to be made, but I feel like our team is absolutely amazing, they are 100% dedicated to our students and doing what we need to do to return to the classroom.” 

Several officials noted they were on a call last week with county leadership and Monday’s announcement was not mentioned, and some local officials mentioned seeing the decision for the first time on social media.

“We actually already talked to our principals last week, around what was our rollout plan going to be,” said Pelzel. “It was a little different, it was going to be a little bit longer, but we decided that, let’s go ahead and act on this now and see what we can safely do. And so we talked to the principals today and we adjusted.”

Parents remained divided as they learned more throughout the day about what their districts’ plans were, with some saying that they would continue to keep their children at home and others opting to return to campus. 

“To be honest, schools really can’t keep students from catching the common cold,” said Michelle Saville, a parent of a sixth-grader in the Newhall School District. “How and what preventions are going to be in place to ensure that they are kept clean and that they wash their hands?” 

Saville said she decided that her kids would not be returning to in-person instruction, instead opting to stay with distance learning until more students and site staff have had a chance to be vaccinated. 

“(Campuses reopening) sounds awesome, but if you are parents and if you do have multiple kids, you know there’s no way you can keep two eyes on 15-20 kids, and make sure they’re socially distancing and washing their hands appropriately,” said Saville. 

District officials also reiterated their commitment to washing surfaces and the classrooms, as well as abiding by numerous new health and safety guidelines. 

Val Bruyere, another Newhall mom, said she has friends who stand on both sides of the issue, but she herself is happy with the decision for the students to start heading back because it means she can work. 

“We’re glad they’re opening, we’re glad that the numbers got to where they needed to be,” said Bruyere. “So we’re excited about it.”

She added that health and safety concerns are always on a parent’s mind when sending their  students to school, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re always going to have those, and that’s something that kind of grew over the last year,” said Bruyere. “But we’ve taught our son a lot about the virus and the things he needs to do to stay safe. And everyone in his class has been kind of acting the same way when they talk about it. We feel good.”

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