School Districts Bring Elementary Students Back on Campus

Covina Valley Unified and West Covina Unified school districts are in the process of returning to normalcy after more than a year of online learning


Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action. Posted on Flickr.

When proper safety guidelines are followed, the California Department of Public Health has found that schools are not major vectors of COVID-19, especially elementary schools. This, combined with the health, social and emotional benefits in-person schooling has on children, has convinced two local school districts to start in-person school this spring.

Since March, Covina Valley Unified School District has had their elementary schools reopened in an attempt to return students and staff to normalcy.

According to an article published on the San Gabriel Valley Tribune,the West Covina Unified School District Board voted on a plan to resume on-campus classes at its meeting on March 9 held at Edgewood High School.

Covina Valley Unified School District

Mesa Elementary School in Covina is operating under the Hybrid Learning Model outlined in the Los Angeles County Public Health Department reopening protocols, where students attend in-person school two days of the week with three days of online learning. They are further split into A and B groups, halving the number of students in the classroom at a given time.

Students are given their own supplies to limit their movement in the classroom and employ strategies like “monster arms” to keep arm’s length distance from each other. Plexiglass screens are erected on each desk and hand sanitizer is placed at the entrance to each classroom.

In-person attendance is voluntary for both students and teachers; some teachers are continuing to work online.

The online program will continue until the end of the school year for parents and students that are unsure about returning to in-person schooling.

For those that have grown to prefer the online format, there is a new school called the Covina-Valley Learning Options Academy, and are slated to offer virtual learning, independent study and supported homeschooling. There is no scheduled opening date.

A kindergarten teacher at Mesa Elementary, who wishes to remain anonymous, vocalized her support for the hybrid system, but said that, “so many other districts right now have gone back full time, and we’re still in hybrid, so I’m hoping they’re seeing these other school districts going back five days a week and letting us do the same.”

Since March 29, students have been adjusting to in-person classes. Teachers have had more than a year of seeing their students through screens, and some have had issues with getting their students to focus in a home environment.

As the same teacher put it, “parents didn’t sign up to be teachers,” and are not always available to refocus attention on learning.

Other students learned to do their own work. The teacher criticized some of her students’ work, saying that the work from home does not match the work in the classroom in some cases.

The school year ends early June, but the teacher said that, “two months is better than no months.”

While kindergarten teachers are mainly concerned with their students’ printing skills, she expressed her concerns that the older students, those who had to take a year off of in-person classes, may have trouble developing social skills and emotions.

West Covina Unified School District

In a presentation of the board on West Covina’s COVID-19 reopening updates page, Denise R. Knutsen, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, offered two choices–a hybrid program and all distance-learning. The hybrid option would allow kindergarten through second grade, and the third grade through sixth grade to return to in person schooling.
According to a press release letter by Charles D. Hinman, Dr. Ed., West Covina Unified School District Superintendent said, “the hybrid program was developed with the input from our stakeholders including representatives from our labor organizations, parents, teachers and the site administrators to plan for a new instructional model as well as provide the opportunity for all staff access.”
The program included the back to school dates for students which have already passed. Kindergarten to second grade students started April 12. Third grade to sixth grade started on April 19.
Protocols for these schools are much like Mesa Elementary. Regular health screenings of students, teachers and office staff who are on campus are being performed. Sanitation is taking place, such as wiping down facilities and classrooms. Each student is socially distant from one another and assigned individual school kits.
The district announced that students who are returning to campus are allowed to be on site from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and resume online instruction for the rest of the day. The students are split into two groups: one on campus Monday and Tuesday; the other on campus Thursday and Friday.
The reopening plan allows for 39 days of instruction for TK to second grade students and 35 days for third to sixth grade students.
Megan Cansino, a West Covina parent, said that she isn’t comfortable with her daughter attending classes in person.
“Having schools reopen does not mean she will not get sick,” Cansino said. “I do feel comfortable with my daughter staying home.”
“Being a parent, you want to be able to have control. In a classroom that is not possible,” she said.