More Students — and Sports — Returning to LCUSD

Photos courtesy Jason Sarceda
The La Cañada High School varsity football team had its first official practice of the year on Monday. The players practiced in helmets on Monday and put on pads for the first time in nearly a year on Wednesday.

Nearly a year after closing its school sites to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the La Cañada Unified School District took another step closer to returning to normalcy this week by welcoming 4th-graders back to campus for limited in-person instruction.
The district will complete its elementary reopening of in-person instruction by bringing back 5th graders today and 6th graders on Monday, March 8.
“We are so excited to welcome back to school our 4th-graders on the hybrid schedule this past Monday and Tuesday,” LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said in an email. “The expanded reopening went really smoothly and helped pave the way for the return of 5th-graders on Thursday and 6th-graders on March 8. We are so grateful to our teachers and staff who have supported these transitions back to in-person instruction.
“We have missed our students immensely over the past year and know that the return to in-person instruction is a priority for the entire LCUSD community.”
Kaitzer Puglia, governing board president, gave kudos to La Cañada, Palm Crest and Paradise Canyon elementary schools’ principals and staff for the safe return of young learners.
“We all look forward to seeing our 5th- and 6th-graders coming back to campus in the next week and appreciate the support of all members of our community in continuing to follow safety and health protocols,” Puglia said in an email.
LCUSD remains a pioneer when it comes to navigating education in a COVID-19 world. It was one of the first districts in Los Angeles County to open its doors to transitional kindergartners through 2nd-graders back in November and will be one of the few to be open for in-person instruction through 6th grade.
Schools are not allowed to reopen for grades 7-12, but that could change soon. With COVID-19 cases and the transmission rate dramatically falling, L.A. County is closer to moving out of the most restrictive purple tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. To move into the less restrictive red tier, the county’s case rate must be at or below seven new cases per 100,000 people and test positivity rate at or below 8% for two consecutive weeks. On Tuesday, the state reported L.A. County’s adjusted case rate is 7.2 cases per 100,000 and the positivity rate is 3.5%
Sinnette is hopeful to expand the district’s reopening to students in grades 7-12 but asked parents to be patient with the process.
“Please know that we are working diligently on the reopening plans for La Cañada High School 7-12, but it won’t be as simple as ‘flipping a switch’ once clearance is given in the red tier,” Sinnette wrote in a letter to parents. “And school at LCHS 7-12 will not look as it did a year ago once we reopen. But we will reopen in as timely a manner as possible in order to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff and we are excited about the opportunities for in-person instruction and extracurricular school experiences that the less restrictive red tier will afford us.”


Though the majority of students in grades 7-12 aren’t permitted to return to their school site, a select few who participate in athletics were able to make their official return to the field on Monday. LCHS head football coach Jason Sarceda hosted his first official practice of the school year and players were able to wear a football helmet for the first time in nearly a full year.
“We are so excited,” Sarceda said. “There is so much unknown with COVID but we’ve been trying to keep our players intact with the mindset of never giving up. I think a lot of guys responded and stuck it out. I tell our seniors this is for them.”
The football season will officially kick off at home against South Pasadena on Friday, March 19, and the Spartans will later face Temple City, Glendale, San Marino and Monrovia.
La Cañada hosted a time trial for Rio Hondo League teams last week and more sporting events are on the way. Athletic Director Carrie Saks said she and other administrators and staff are working on schedules.
The sight of student-athletes practicing was a welcome one for LCHS Principal James Cartnal, who gave kudos to his colleagues and coaches for making it possible.
“Sports play such an important role in the lives of our students and as I walked the campus to check in on our teams, I saw our athletes not only building their strength and skill, but deepening friendships and enjoying much missed camaraderie,” Cartnal said in an email. “The return of sports also portends the return, we hope, of more campus activities, as students will be invited to school for activities, tours and connections that we hope will grow and grow.”
Sinnette expressed a similar sentiment in her message to stakeholders and let them know that the LCHS senior class and 8th-graders are at the “top of mind in all our planning.”
“The governing board, your LCHS administration, your parents, your teachers and staff at LCHS, and the district staff are all working together to listen to you and to explore every possible option to celebrate you and your incredible achievements in the fourth quarter. The opportunities will be in-person and virtual, they will look a little different than what tradition has held, but we will make sure that there are activities and celebrations dedicated to making the culminating months of your LCHS journey a happy and memorable one.”


Sinnette also updated families on vaccinations for teachers and staff. Through its partnership with USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and Keck Medicine of USC, the superintendent hopes all district “staff who desired to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will have had their first dose” by this Saturday, March 6.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health this week opened up vaccine eligibility to teachers and childcare workers, emergency responders and those working in the food and agriculture industries.
An official with Keck said 800 teachers from school districts in La Cañada, South Pasadena and San Marino were expected to get their first doses this week.
“We’re very excited,” said Felipe Osorno, executive administrator of continuum of care operations at Keck. “Many of us are parents and we believe strongly that kids belong in the classrooms. We’re excited to help a piece of our society get back to some normality.”
Teachers will go to Norris Healthcare Center in Boston Heights to receive their shots, in part because of the storage requirements for the vaccines — they are using Pfizer’s — and also the unlikely event someone experiences a medical emergency afterward.
“We have a very robust vaccine operation that we’ve been running for two months, since the vaccine became available,” Osorno said. “We have given over 30,000 doses, so we have a process that works.”

Zane Hill contributed to the vaccination report