When select elementary school students began returning to classrooms in South Pasadena on Thursday, it represented an exciting moment for school officials as well as one that invites some anxiety for the future.
To be sure, students were to return to South Pasadena Unified School District’s three elementary schools this week regardless of the county order allowing such schools to resume classes. The district had secured waivers in November to bring back limited in-person instruction for grades TK-2 at the schools, which it committed weeks ago to starting on Thursday.
The district had essentially been planning and adjusting for such a return since summer.
“We were very proactive in planning for this possible moment,” Superintendent Geoff Yantz said in an interview Tuesday.
The order from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which was announced Monday night and made official on Tuesday, was anticipated throughout the county. Per state guidelines, counties in the purple tier of coronavirus infection can reopen elementary schools after having an adjusted daily new case rate of 25 per 100,000 residents.
Although the order covers all elementary grade levels, SPUSD opted to continue with its already planned schedule and to continue building on that in the coming weeks, barring a surge in cases that would again force closures.
“That is also recommended by the state and the county, to kind of take it in phases,” Yantz said.
In-person instruction is divided into morning and afternoon groups, with each of the three schools — Arroyo Vista Elementary, Marengo Elementary and Monterey Hills Elementary — hosting around 200 total students a day. Meanwhile, distance teaching will continue for the remainder of students who have opted to remain at home.
“Before school started, we had gone through a process with our families and teachers to determine, if schools were to open, would they choose distance learning or hybrid?” Yantz said. “That allowed us to make full classes of all the families who want distance learning and classes of hybrid instruction.
“The teachers who may be vulnerable to serious illness were assigned to classes of students who want distance learning,” he added. “That advanced planning really allowed us now to not take kids and reassign them. It creates a great deal of stability.”
Students’ schedules, teachers and classmates will remain essentially the same as it has been since the start of the school year, as a result. Yantz credited the work of administrators to make this happen and added it probably was an easier task to manage in a smaller school district.
“There are some subtle changes,” he said. “There are some parents who chose distance learning but now maybe want hybrid, or vice versa, so we’re doing our best to accommodate everybody.”
The district did have the advantage of being able to build off the safety protocols of its childcare program during the days, when their parents or caretakers needed to work. Similar distancing and hygiene rules will be used with in-person instruction. What’s more, county health officials had in January reviewed each school and the return plan protocols and gave glowing reviews to the district.
“There have been no transmittable cases in that program since it started,” Yantz said, referring to the childcare services. “Everyone continues to follow the guidance and the requirements that we sent out and we should be safe. We obviously encourage the entire community to continue to be very disciplined in their behaviors at home and throughout our community. The lower we can keep community spread, there’s less of an opportunity for the virus to come into our schools. The same goes for our employees.”
Additionally, athletic conditioning for high school students continues, with distancing and cohort restrictions. Middle school intramural athletes began practicing starting last week. Officials can permit those students to return for in-person classes only after the county achieves an adjusted case rate of no more than seven new cases per 100,000 residents each day.
South Pasadena Middle School also recently formed a series of groups of students to receive “additional support” on the campus, with a focus on wellness. The middle school also has begun an after-school drama program and the Associated Student Body has been meeting weekly — all utilizing distancing and hygiene restrictions.
For additional information, visit spusd.net.