Students, teachers make the most of a difficult year

by Steven Felschundneff |

Much like the city news, education in Claremont was dominated most of the year by the conronavirus.
In mid March as the pandemic came closer to our city, Claremont Unified School District officials initially elected to keep campuses open while canceling all non-classroom events through the beginning of April. But that stand lasted only one day. With the Claremont Colleges and Los Angeles Unified already moving into shutdown mode, CUSD followed suit, announcing on March 13 that schools would close.
“Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, schools within Claremont Unified School District will be closed to students in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and will reopen on Monday, April 13, unless conditions call for an extension,” Superintendent Jim Elsasser said in a March 13 statement.
Well, conditions called for an extension, to say the least.
Nine months later, Claremont’s public schools are still closed as are the Claremont Colleges. Students have had to adjust to remote learning and instruction from the district’s online course management system, Canvas.
When the pandemic hit, teachers and students alike just did their best to ride out the remaining two and a half months of the spring semester. But teachers and administrators had all summer to plan for fall, including mastering Canvas. But planning an online curriculum was just the first obstacle, because many CUSD employees are also parents of school-age children, who would be in class at home.
“Just knowing this year was going to start out completely different, I think most teachers spent the summer learning and preparing and trying to be ready for this week,” CUSD speech pathologist Kara Leeper told my colleague Mick Rhodes as teachers and students prepared for the first day of the fall semester. Ms. Leeper’s two sons include a sophomore at CHS and a seventh grader at El Roble, while her twin girls are fourth graders at Condit.
The shutdowns also meant that many of the traditional rites of passage were also canceled or altered. Graduation was initially rescheduled for July 28, but as cases rose in the early weeks of summer that plan was scrapped in favor of a drive-up event spanning two days. The prom was also rescheduled but then had to be canceled.
When the week came for the class of 2020’s graduation, the school did its best to make the day a celebration with cap and gown distribution, an opportunity to have a formal picture taken and give a brief video testimonial. Many graduates met their families out front to take group photos in front of the CHS sign.
The Claremont Colleges also elected not to hold commencement exercises.
Of course, high school seniors are not the only students who missed out on cherished events due to the closure. The Vista track meet didn’t happen. El Roble students missed out on the bike marathon and end of the year award ceremonies, not to mention after school dances and career day. There was no father daughter dance, after school enrichment classes or promotion ceremonies at our elementary schools. Sycamore sixth graders didn’t get to enjoy their pool party.
Now the open question remains: how many of these important rituals will be canceled a second year in a row? Six of the seven Claremont Colleges have already announced that in-person instruction will not be coming back as the spring semester begins early next year. The only holdout, Harvey Mudd College, indicated administrators would decide in the next several weeks whether to bring students back.
In late October CUSD got more bad news when Mr. Elsasser announced he was leaving to accept a position as superintendent of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District.
“As you might guess, it is with mixed emotions that I made this decision. While I will deeply miss the CUSD and the entire Claremont community, I leave with enormous pride in our shared accomplishments of the past 8 and 1/2 years,” Mr. Elsasser said.
On December 18, CUSD staff, teachers and administrators held a car parade to say goodbye to Mr. Elsasser who has been highly regarded during his tenure in Claremont.
During the November election, Claremont voters selected Bob Fass and Kath Archer to serve on the CUSD Board of Education. Laura Bollinger will be the next member of the Citrus Community College Board of Trustees, and voters approved Measure Y which funds significant new construction at Citrus College.
The new CUSD board will have dual top priorities getting the district’s schools reopened as soon as it is safe and choosing a new superintendent.
With the cancellation of classes came the elimination of extra curricular activities including sports, debate, band and theater.
Several coaches told the COURIER they had very young teams and were looking at the season as an opportunity to rebuild. But with practices and games canceled, that work will have to wait until who knows when. Other sports, such as boys tennis, were odds on favorites to win a league title, but no new banners were added to the CHS gym this spring.
The California Interscholastic Federation announced on July 20 the somewhat confusing decision that fall sports would begin in December, and spring season would begin a few months later.
Unfortunately, in mid December the region was still in the middle of a serious COVID-19 outbreak and most teams were told they could not resume competition. The only sports that currently have the go ahead from the CIF are cross country, golf, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field, which are tentatively scheduled to begin on January 25.


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