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CUSD sets the table for a ‘happy new year’

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

 Claremont Unified School District heads back to class Wednesday, August 31, and teachers and administrators are brimming with excitement.

Though it’s the second straight year since COVID-19 students will return to the district’s 10 campuses for first-day in-person instruction, many agreed it feels just a bit more normal.

“Everyone is waking up from this last two years of being under a pandemic umbrella, so everybody’s really excited,” said Felipe Delvasto, San Antonio High School principal and CUSD’s senior coordinator of alternative education. “I’m just excited to again have some kind of normalcy in our schools. Kids need to be feeling normal. Parents need to be feeling normal and secure. Some type of normalcy is what we need.”

Superintendent Jim Elsasser, who rejoined CUSD in July after two years with the Placentia-Yorba Linda district, echoed Delvasto. “There’s an excitement in the air because this return feels as close to a normal return that we’ve had in the last several years.”

Mountain View Elementary kindergarten teacher Kristen McClellan (pictured at the top of this page) has a rainbow themed classroom this year. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

Pandemic protocols are different this year. Parents can drop by classes for special occasions, and students will no longer have to fill out daily COVID-19 symptom sheets before school.

Elsasser said the district will be following the county public health department’s lead when it comes to dealing with COVID guidelines and exposures.

“My executive cabinet and I have a call with the superintendent of Los Angeles County Office of Education, and Dr. [Barbara] Ferrer from the L.A. County Department of Public Health every other Thursday morning to hear the latest updates,” Elsasser said.

According to current LACDPH guidelines, masking on campus will be optional — but still highly recommended — and positive test results will no longer need to be reported to the department’s outbreak tracking database, “unless there is a cluster of three or more linked cases within a 14-day period.”

Should an outbreak occur, frequent testing of all potentially linked people will be implemented.

Also new this year, students who come into contact with an infected person but wish to remain in school can do so. A “close contact” student must remain asymptomatic, be monitored for symptoms for 10 days, test negative at least once three to five days after exposure, and again six to nine days after exposure. Students unable to meet these requirements or wear a mask after exposure will need to remain at home for 10 days following potential exposure.

“With the recent approval of the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15, a state COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students in grades seven to 12 may begin in July 2023,” according to the county’s new guidance.

CUSD will continue to offer its independent studies program, Claremont Alternative Learning Model, to secondary students.

“Elementary kids, we feel that they benefit more from being in-person, so the [independent studies] program is only offered to secondary schools only,” Delvasto said.

Claremont High School students will see Brittany Sornborger, a uniformed Claremont Police Department student resource officer on campus come August 31.

“City staff has been working with my staff on a draft [memorandum of understanding] surrounding the duties of the SRO that I believe will be taken to the city council and to our board of education in the coming weeks,” Elsasser said.

Elsasser said mental health continues to be a “top priority.”

“We know that it’s difficult to address [students’] academic needs when they aren’t mentally healthy,” he said. “And so that will continue to be part of the focus of our work this year.”

Elementary school teachers have been busy working to set up their classrooms ahead of Wednesday’s big return. On Tuesday, the COURIER dropped by Mountain View Elementary School.

In classroom 10, kindergarten teacher Kristen McClellan (pictured at the top of this page) finished decorating her rainbow-themed class and was in the process of cutting out 24 welcome cards for students. She said the feelings ahead of day one are usually a blend of nervousness and excitement.

“It’s always nerve wracking getting to know new kids and starting over after a full summer break,” she said. “But then exciting because you get to know the kids and get to know new family members.”

On the opposite end of campus, sixth grade instructor Maureen Free was sliding piles of books into student’s desks.

“I always tell my kids it’s like Christmas Eve [for teachers],” Free said. “I came in a week ago Monday and it was just a thrill to be back. I always greet everyone with, ‘Happy new year.’”

Mountain View Elementary School sixth grade teacher Maureen Free slides books into students’ desks in preparation for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

Asked what she was looking forward to most, Free was emotional.

“Just being together. We all miss that,” she said, holding back tears. “We miss the kids. But just that fullness of the school year, that hope that comes with the first day of school, I’m most excited about that.”

Chaparral Elementary principal Ann O’Connor agreed with her colleagues that this year feels closer to normal.

“This one feels like we have that chance at having play before school, and welcoming kids, mixing [kids] and still being safe and having precautions but getting back to breathing a little easier,” O’Connor said. “Just feeling comfortable in our surroundings.”

To keep up with CUSD now and throughout the year, visit cusd.claremont.edu.

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