Teachers and a cascade of bubbles greeted kindergartners as they filed off the school bus and entered classrooms at Las Lomitas Elementary School in Atherton on Monday, Oct. 19. These are some of the first students to step foot on campus -- vulnerable groups of students who need extra support returned to classrooms several weeks ago -- since the school shut down seven months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These Las Lomitas Elementary School District students joined their peers in the neighboring Menlo Park City and Portola Valley school districts, who have returned to classrooms in recent weeks. The Las Lomitas Elementary School District includes Las Lomitas Elementary (grades K-3) and La Entrada (grades 4-8) schools and serves about 1,111 students, according to Superintendent Beth Polito.
Las Lomitas Elementary Principal Alain Camou has felt "fear and anxiety" about reopening, but said the first day back was going "really well."
"There's something about having the kids here that puts me at ease," he said. "We have all the right measures in place to have this return be successful and safe for the kids and staff."
An Almanac reporter and photographer were turned away from the campus on Oct. 19, after district officials rescinded permission to document the first day back.
Class sizes on the K-3 campus are 16 or fewer, Camou said. The school has a staggered recess schedule that reduces the number of students outside to reduce the mixing of cohorts. There are now hand-sanitizing stations and free-standing HEPA air filters in every classroom, as well as hospital-grade air filters in the HVAC system.
Older students will be phasing back into classrooms the following weeks, Polito said. First graders are due back on Oct. 26, with second and fifth graders set to start Nov. 2. Third and fourth graders will return Nov. 9.
Grades K-3 will start with a part-day schedule, with in-person instruction running from 8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fourth and fifth graders will be in class from 8:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. A full-day schedule is set to start on Nov. 16 for all students.
Middle schoolers (students in grades six through eight) will continue with remote learning until the school board reviews a timeline at the Oct. 28 meeting, Polito said.
To accommodate smaller class sizes, the district reassigned staff members who may regularly teach reading or other niche subjects to a K-5 cohort of students, she said.
The county moved out of the most restrictive purple or "widespread" risk tier to the red or "substantial" tier on Sept. 22. Since the county stayed in the red tier for four weeks as of Oct. 20, all schools in San Mateo County serving transitional kindergarten through 12th grades are allowed to reopen, so long as they develop a reopening plan, have a testing plan in place for staff, and use an incremental approach to reopening, according to the San Mateo County Office of Education website.