Students in four Southern California school districts returned to brick-and-mortar classrooms on Monday morning after more than a year of distance learning.
Most of California's 6.1 million students in 1,037 public school districts have been learning from home since last March because of the pandemic. While businesses have opened and closed through the ups and downs of the pandemic, many school boards have not been willing to return students to classrooms as they have struggled with the costs associated with public health standards and negotiations with teachers' unions.
"I'm excited. It's reminding me why I'm back, why we do this" said Leslie Courtney, a second-grade teacher at Alvarado Elementary School in Signal Hill. "This is my 26th year but I feel like a new teacher again."
Long Beach Unified, Glendale Unified, Downey Unified and Manhattan Beach Unified school districts welcomeD back students, with a list of COVID-19 safety protocols in place based on guidance from public health officials. Most schools that are reopening are operating on a limited schedule.
"As I walked through the building this morning, I had that sense that life was being breathed back into the building -- by our students and by our teachers who have worked so hard to get to this moment," said Superintendent Jill Baker of Long Beach Unified.
Gov. Newsom signs bill to get kids back in public schools by end of March
Mayor Robert Garcia noted that Long Beach Unified is the currently "the largest public school system in the state of California to reopen classrooms."
Parent Nora Pombeiro said she considered "the option to do the at-home Zoom, but the kids need to get back -- and we need to get back, and have some type of normalcy."
The following grades are returning to in-person instruction:
- Long Beach Unified: transitional kindergarten through fifth grade
- Glendale Unified: transitional kindergarten through second grade
- Downey Unified: transitional kindergarten through 12th grade
- Manhattan Beach Unified: transitional kindergarten through 9th grade
Downey Unified is expected to reopen all 20 of its campuses, Glendale is reopening elementary schools first for a phased return and schools in Long Beach will also reopen with all of its teachers and staff fully vaccinated. Manhattan Beach will have a shortened week with its spring break starting Friday.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified School District will welcome back students on a limited basis the week of April 12, with kindergartener and first graders coming back on the 13th.
The plan is to bring back pre-schoolers and elementary school students first.
Each tier in California's reopening framework has specific rules about how schools and other public spaces can operate during the pandemic.
Districts in the red tier -- which Los Angeles County currently falls under -- that want to access new state funding must provide in-person learning for students in transitional kindergarten through grade 6 and at least one grade each in middle and high school.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month does not require all students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom and it would not require districts to get approval from teachers' unions before returning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.