PALMDALE — Westside Union School District transitional and kindergarten students returned to the classroom on Monday, for the first time since school campuses closed last March and transitioned to distance learning.
“The safety of students, staff and the community is our highest priority. Today we took a major step forward in our return to classrooms. The joy on everyone’s face was incredible and we are eager to continue moving toward a complete return to in-person instruction,” Westside Union School District Superintendent Regina Rossall said Monday.
The students are assigned to cohorts or stable groups of no more than 14 students and no more than two adults. Students attend a morning or afternoon session Monday through Thursday, with Friday being an all-day distance learning day.
Students have two-and-a-half hours in class. The remainder of the day is an at-home assignment.
“It was so exciting to see the smiles on the faces of our children but also our staff,” Rossall said. “You could tell they were so happy to see one another.”
Valley View Elementary School Principal Rebecca Davis agreed.
“Educators are not designed to be physically separated from each other, their students and their families. Today we experienced hope that we will all be safely brought together again in our buildings. It brought such joy to my heart to see happy parents, students, staff and teachers today at Valley View. We waited for this day for a long time,” Davis said.
The District has an agreement with the Westside Union Teachers Association to bring back transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students, in addition to special needs students.
The District brought back its first group of learners on Feb. 16, when transitional kindergarten through sixth grade students in mild/moderate special day classes returned to campus at three schools.
They will most likely proceed with a similar split time schedule for third through sixth grades, Rossall said. However, the District does not yet have an agreement with the union.
“We try to do a little at a time so we do it well,” she said.
Westside Union Teachers Association President Robert Dunham wrote in an email that the union is working toward a measured return to campus when it is safe to do so.
“It is not a race but rather a deliberate process to insure all safety measures are in place and teachers feel comfortable returning to the classrooms. There are still many unanswered questions that we will be working through in the coming weeks,” Dunham wrote.
Dunham added the limited returns to campus are the result of many hours of work by the bargaining teams of the union and the District.
“We started working in July for the safe return to in-person instruction, and last week saw the fruits of that labor,” Dunham wrote.
“I believe I can speak for all teachers impacted by the pandemic; we want to return to school; we want to connect with our students; we want to do our job. But it has to be done safely and done right, and that takes time and effort on all fronts, he wrote.
“I am excited that there are students back at school. I believe we (WUTA and WUSD) have done all that is possible to insure that today was a first step to a return to normalcy. As for the future, that remains to be seen, based on any successes or setbacks experienced today and the rest of this week.”
Parents had the option to have their children return to in-person instruction or to remain on distance learning for the remainder of the school year.
Westside’s COVID-19 prevention program includes the use of 654 Global Plasma Solutions ionizers on all heating, ventilation and air conditioning units districtwide. The ionizers require no maintenance and are said to kill 99% of all germs, bacteria and viruses. In addition, they are certified to deliver clean indoor air that is safe and healthy.
Students and staff are also required to wear face coverings and maintain at least six feet of physical distancing at all times.