Students from pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade at P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy lined up on the playground blacktop Aug. 12 before their first day of school started, almost like a normal day before Covid-19.
The presence of masks on all students and teachers—a requirement on all Morgan Hill Unified School District campuses—was the only indication that a pandemic is still underway.
Kids greeted their friends and followed in line without any social distancing requirements. Parents hung around to take photos and say goodbye to their children for as long as they could until school faculty ordered them to leave.
P.A. Walsh Principal Shannon Rafat spoke over a loudspeaker as she welcomed the student body back to full-capacity in-person learning for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
“Having kids on campus filled our hearts,” Rafat said in an email after the highly anticipated first day of the 2021-22 school year was over. “It was amazing to see all of our families and students together on the blacktop again. We were excited to be able to invite our learners back to campus this year.”
P.A. Walsh teaches students from grades Transitional Kindergarten to fifth. Rafat said about 15 students throughout the school opted for a home-based independent study year—an option given to all parents this year who don’t feel safe sending their kids back to the classroom while the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 gains hold.
“We know kids belong in school for not only our hands-on instruction, but to provide a safe space to socialize and learn from their classmates; but (we) respect everyone’s choices,” Rafat said.
School started at all 14 MHUSD campuses Aug. 12, without capacity restrictions and without social distancing requirements. Masks are required for all students, staff, parents and visitors to all campuses. The district is following all other California Department of Public Health guidelines for in-person school, according to district staff.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all K-12 teachers to be vaccinated by mid-October, or submit to weekly Covid-19 testing.
Those who have Covid-19 or exhibit symptoms will still be prohibited from entering MHUSD schools. Parents and staff are asked to check themselves and their children for Covid-19 symptoms (fever, runny nose, sore throat, etc.) each day before leaving home.
MHUSD Superintendent Dr. Carmen Garcia said the first two days of districtwide in-person learning have been “invaluable.”
“It has been heartwarming and exhilarating to see students, families and district staff all back together on our campuses,” Garcia said. “We saw the reconnection of old friends, excitement seeing last year’s teachers (in person and not on Zoom), meeting new teachers/staff and developing new friendships on our playgrounds and campus quads, among others.”
At P.A. Walsh, the first day’s only snag mentioned by Rafat was the “organized chaos” at student pickup time as kids were dismissed. Road construction underway near the campus—located on West Main Avenue—made this chaos even more hectic.
“We will continue to improve this process and appreciate all of our families’ understanding and patience,” Rafat said.
MHUSD will host a vaccination clinic from 3-5pm Aug. 24 at district headquarters, 15600 Concord Circle. The clinic will offer Pfizer Covid-19 vaccinations, as well as seasonal flu shots, for eligible participants.