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LAUSD's First Day: What Back-To-School Amid A Pandemic Looks Like

Parents and students lined up outside a school on Los Angeles Unified School District's first day of in-person school.
It's back to school for LAUSD students today—and we have all the updates.
(Kyle Stokes
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Los Angeles Unified School District students returned to class Monday for the fall semester, going back to classrooms that are as "normal" as they've been since the start of the pandemic.

Most LAUSD students attended classes on campus as they typically did before the shutdown, five days a week, six hours per day.

There's no more six-foot spacing between desks, or Zoom classes, or morning or afternoon shifts, as there were when school first reopened last spring.

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On the campus of her alma mater, Narbonne High School, LAUSD board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin spent the morning popping in and out of classrooms — each full to their pre-pandemic capacities of between 20 and 30 students.

"It feels right," said Ortiz Franklin, who represents South L.A. and San Pedro on the board. "This is what typical school should be: getting to work in groups, have diverse learners all together in the room."

On many campuses, the first day of the new year got off to a rocky start: problems with LAUSD's Daily Pass website led to lengthy wait times for students trying to enter campuses.

LAUSD requires all students to take weekly COVID-19 tests, whether they are vaccinated or not — and schools will send home any student without a recent negative test on file. When they arrive at school each day, students confirm they have negative results by visiting the Daily Pass website, generating a QR code, and showing that code to a staffer at the entrance.

Monday morning, Daily Pass crashed, leading parents from several campuses to take to social media to complain of wait times that in some cases stretched close to an hour.

LAUSD Interim Superintendent Megan Reilly told reporters that parents she'd encountered had been understanding about the waits. She says the Daily Pass site’s slow performance owes to how many students and parents tried to log on this morning. In a way, she interprets this morning’s long lines as a hopeful sign.

"I think that parents...everyone that I’ve talked to has been very understanding about some of the things that have been slow," Reilly said. "They have been very patient, because they know underlying all of this is to preserve and make the safest environment for their child."

Reilly told KPCC/LAist "we are working with the vendor to make sure and see what extra capacity is necessary, so we don’t have that occurring," and that she'd learn tonight if the problem would be fixed by tomorrow morning.

By Oct. 15, as the school district announced last week, all staff will have to be fully vaccinated. LAUSD has also maintained many of the same pandemic precautions they took during last spring's reopening: classrooms will still be regularly disinfected, and students and teachers will still have to wear masks anywhere on LAUSD campuses.

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Students wearing masks lined up outside at Montara Avenue Elementary School in South Gate.
Students line up for the cafeteria at Montara Avenue Elementary School in South Gate.
(Alborz Kamalizad

Vernida Watson, who teaches preschool at LAUSD's Normont Early Education Center, used a puppet named George — with a tiny surgical mask over his fabric face — as a teaching aid "to demonstrate how safe we need to be."

"We have to cover our faces so we don't get sick," Watson said. Her students "don't have a problem" with wearing masks, she said.

LAUSD preschool teacher Verinda Watson uses a puppet to explain mask safety to a child seated at a table in the classroom.
LAUSD preschool teacher Vernida Watson uses a puppet to explain mask safety to young students.
(Kyle Stokes

Reginald Obiamalu, principal of Patton Continuation High School, said he's confident that the district's training, outreach and safety precautions will prevent COVID-19 outbreaks this year.

"I am 100% sure," Obiamalu said, "that [at Patton], all of us staff and students are safe, and will be safe."

In spite of the first-day glitches, many students said they were glad to be back. Waiting outside Narbonne High School, where the Daily Pass crash stranded as many as 200 students outside the front gate, sophomore Diego Alexander cracked jokes.

“The only day I want to go to school, school don’t want me in there. I’m not gonna feel like this every day," he laughed.

A sign directs students and parents to rapid COVID-19 testing on the first day of school at Daniel Webster Middle School
A sign directs students and parents to rapid COVID-19 testing on the first day of school at Daniel Webster Middle School.
(Julia Paskin)

Eight-grader Manyori Aguirre Rivera said she was happy to be in her robotics class in person at Daniel Webster Middle School in West L.A. Studying at home wasn't always easy.

“It was kind of difficult with all the distractions of being in the house, and you hear all those noises," she said, "and then sometimes you just don’t know what to do online because it's very confusing sometimes.”

She said she doesn’t mind masks or getting tested: “Getting the COVID testing would basically be prevention…and that’s basically like protecting others around you."

Here are more tweets and images from LAUSD's first day of school:

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).

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