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Get ready! Claremont elementary schools to reopen Monday

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

It’s been a long, arduous 13 months since Claremont public schools shut down March 13, 2020 as the rapidly advancing coronavirus pandemic made its way across the country. The thought at the time was it would be weeks, or—God forbid—months until students were back in class.

And now, after a rollercoaster year in which hopes were buoyed and dashed as the virus surged, kids will once again roam the halls at Claremont’s seven elementary schools when they open on Monday.

“I cannot wait. I will be out there on Monday at school sites seeing the smiles on kids’ faces,” said much relieved Claremont Unified School District interim Superintendent of Schools Julie Olesniewicz. “We’re just really excited to have students back.”

Monday’s first day for primary schools will be followed a week later by the same event for secondary students when El Roble Intermediate and Claremont and San Antonio high schools open their doors April 19.

And in news that will likely cause a certain class of 2021 some measure of joy, this year’s graduation ceremony—after last year’s was reduced to a well-intentioned but ultimately melancholy “drive-by” event—will likely go forward.

“We haven’t been given any guidance from the department of public health, but right now we are moving forward with planning a typical graduation,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “Ours is always outside anyway. I think what it comes down to is in June is how far do we have to space the kids apart when they sit, and how many folks can we put in the stadium. We’re planning a regular graduation.”

It’s still unclear how many students have opted to return to classrooms for the final 10 weeks of the 2020-21 school year. Results of the latest district survey asking students if they preferred in-person or distance learning had not yet been tallied at press time.

“What I was hearing at least from Claremont High was that it’s really looking fifty-fifty,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “The last time I was informed about it, I would say half of the families hadn’t even responded. There were 1,400 so far, and that was several days ago.”

If those estimates hold, they would be a long way off from the response at Oakmont Elementary, where sixth-year principal Jennifer Adams said all but 32 of the school’s 276 students opted to return to campus on Monday.

“It’s very exciting. We’re really looking forward to having that joy on campus again,” Ms. Adams said.

Asked how her school has weathered the past 13 months of unprecedented upheaval, Ms. Adams described several improvement projects that were accomplished, and was quick to praise her teachers.

“I think if the past year has shown us anything, it’s that our teachers are ready for anything,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what gets thrown at them, they’re ready for it. They make the best of it.  And they do an amazing job no matter what is set before them.”

She hesitated when asked how Oakmont families have responded.

“I have been … I’m going to get choked up … I’ve been saying over and over and this entire year how incredibly grateful all of us at Oakmont are for our families,” Ms. Adams said. “Since day one, their support has been phenomenal. We have never had any real bumps in the road whatsoever. Our families have just held us up and supported us and encouraged us and stepped up in the most incredible ways to support their own kids.

“I really don’t have words for how incredible it’s been and how much it’s meant to all of us. For the last year, right after we closed and throughout distance learning this year, they’ve been so encouraging, so supportive, they’ve stepped up with their own children in the most incredible ways, and they’ve just made it possible for us to create the best possible online learning experience for our students, because they have held us up and been our educational partners every step of the way.”

On Monday, CUSD’s Board of Education unanimously approved a modified hybrid schedule for elementary, and Claremont and San Antonio high school students, ostensibly checking off the final obstacle to reopening.

Ms. Olesniewicz couldn’t say how long current mask wearing (everyone on every school campus is required to wear one), social distancing, school site sanitizing, air purification and ventilation system COVID-related protocols would stay in place.

“I have no way of predicting that,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “That will come from L.A. County. Their health protocols are what we follow. Who knows how long the social distancing and the mask requirement will go. We’re certainly hoping we can bring our students back 100 percent this fall.”

With Los Angeles County in the orange tier of California’s risk level assignment since March 29, hopes have been high that things are finally moving in a permanently good direction. Governor Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday California will lift all virus restrictions on June 15 if there are enough COVID-19 vaccines available for those 16 or older and hospitalizations remain low and stable.

But with a new variant currently causing surges in Minnesota and Michigan, local public health officials are loathe to make plans for a restriction-free summer.

“That is something the L.A. County Department of Health is already communicating out to us is that they’re already seeing a little bit of a spike in L.A. County,” Ms. Olesniewicz said. “They’re attributing that to possibly spring break and all the travel that we’ve seen on the news coming in and out of LAX. We’ll just continue to watch that.”

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