The La Cañada Unified School District officially reopened for business on Monday, giving students and teachers a semblance of normal with a five-day-a-week bell schedule for the first time in 17 months.
“It was great,” La Cañada High School Principal Jim Cartnal told the Outlook Valley Sun on Tuesday. “I checked in with the kids all day Monday and [Tuesday] and the general sense was that it is super great to be back. Students enjoyed meeting their teachers and being back in the rhythm of school.”
For some, it was a whole new experience. From transitional kindergarteners to 7th- and 10th-graders, some students had never set foot on the campus, let alone attend a class in person at their new school site.
We’re learning about school again,” Cartnal said. “We’re learning about where kids can sit, how to get into the cafeteria. It’s all coming back to us.”
For La Cañada, the return to campus appeared seamless, with students, teachers and staff understanding the health protocols in place and keeping their masks on throughout the day, even when outside. The district was one of the first in Los Angeles County to reopen for limited in-person instruction during the pandemic and helped it prepare for the first day back at full capacity.
“I was really happy that we were able to bring back 7-12 learners back in mid-April, and it was important because students needed to have that in-person experience,” said Superintendent Wendy Sinnete. “The time was right, but we had about 50% or more stay at home at many grade levels.
“Things have gone exceptionally well,” Sinnette added. “I’ve been so grateful to all of our stakeholder groups, administrators, principals, staff and families. … Everyone is getting used to a new normal, and the kids have been great and following the mask requirement. Most students are even wearing them outdoors, which is very encouraging.”
With students following the recommendations from the county, the district may lift some of its self-imposed restrictions, such as not allowing students to visit lockers at the high school. Lockers on the first, second and third floor of the B building and some in the A building were closed this week to avoid crowded hallways, but athletic and band lockers remained open and the school has two supervised areas on campus where students can leave their large bags.
After observing students in the first two days, Cartnal said they are already looking into allowing them to visit their lockers.
“I don’t see a reason why we need to keep [lockers] closed in perpetuity,” said Cartnal. “It was just that we have not had 2,300 people here in a year and a half, and we’re doing it during what we believe was a time of a COVID surge. The goal was always to keep students safe and keep the school open.”
Sinnette confirmed on Wednesday that a plan is in place to reopen the lockers and will provide an update to families within a week.
The youngest learners have been just as adaptive to attending school during the pandemic, keeping their masks on and following directions from teachers and site leaders.
“The first days of school were all about adjusting to having 650 students back on campus with COVID protocols of spacing, masking and staying in classroom cohorts when outside,” said Emily Blaney, La Cañada Elementary principal. “Our families have been very patient with us as we’ve changed a few procedures regarding dismissal, etc. The best thing about the first few days is having our entire LCE family back together again — students, staff and families.”
Palm Crest Elementary Principal Cory Pak echoed Blaney, saying each school is committed to “keeping students safe and learning each day,” and added that it was “amazing to see our students’ happy faces.”
Some LCE students’ faces turned from joy to shock because of an unannounced guest on Monday.
“The most surprising thing about day one was that we had to lock down when a bear was spotted on La Cañada Boulevard,” Blaney said.
Sinnette assured that everything turned out OK for students and the bear.