Outside of the masks and a few logistical changes, it appeared to be business as usual for three Santa Clarita Valley school districts Tuesday with students and staff returning to their campuses to start the 2021-22 school year.
After spending over a year and a half making constant adjustments and tackling unprecedented challenges, Mike Kuhlman, superintendent for the Hart District, said he and district staff had spent the past few months planning and organizing so that Tuesday would be a “normal day.”
“I have to tell you, with all sincerity, at every school site teachers were fully engaged and excited about the return of students,” said Kuhlman, while standing in front of Golden Valley High School greeting students as they walked onto campus. “They all mentioned just how much they missed the personal interaction with students and that they were again doing the work that our staff does normally for the start of school.”
Students seemed to share that feeling with their teachers, as evidenced by sophomore student transfers to Golden Valley, Valeria Haguio and Alonso Domingues. They both said that although new to the school after having attended junior high in another district, they were looking forward to meeting new people and being among friends again after a year and half of COVID-19.
Looking to ensure that students could return to school and be safely among one another again, Kuhlman sent out an email on Monday reminding parents that the mask mandate imposed by state and county public health policy required all students and staff, while indoors, to wear a mask.
When asked about the mask policy, Domingues said that it wasn’t weird for him to wear a mask, and that he had “just got used to it after all this COVID stuff.”
In previous weeks, the district had given parents unhappy with the mask mandate the option to enroll their students at Learning Post Academy, the district’s independent study program. Kuhlman said Learning Post Academy, as of Tuesday, had approximately 300 to 400 students now enrolled when the usual number is around 100.
“I’m glad that we have that option, it’s a good option for parents, and we’re going to work hard to make sure that we meet their needs,” said Kuhlman. However, he later added: “If our goal is to get kids back in the classroom safely, then the inconvenience of masks for a temporary period of time is something I think that we can do in order to put students back in front of teachers and do the work that we normally do.”
At both the Saugus Union School District and Castaic Union School District campuses, students and staff were also asked to wear masks while indoors, as per the public health mandates.
However, Castaic Elementary School parent Christine Aung said her third-grade daughter was happy about the return to school, and Aung would hold out on judging the protocols before the first day of school.
“I think after a year-and- ‘X’ -amount of months of being home, I think it’s worth it,” said Joe Gamboa, a Castaic Elementary parent of three, when asked about the health policies. I think with all the waiting and anticipation … yeah we’re just really happy to be here.”
The normalcy of seeing kids come back to school for the fall session and witnessing them become excited when greeting their friends and teachers once again was described by Saugus Union Superintendent Colleen Hawkins as “wonderful.”
“I’ve been out seeing kids, and it’s a normal school year, they got their new tennis shoes and their new backpacks and their happy little faces,” said Hawkins. “I’m just really excited that we get to have the kids back on campus. I mean, I don’t know how else to say it,”
The Newhall School District and Sulphur Springs Union School District are set to return on Thursday.