St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School came back to life Wednesday morning after a seven-month dormancy due to the coronavirus outbreak, as cars arrived on campus filled with students excited to see their teachers and friends.
With Principal Regina Fox directing traffic, staff conducted health screenings for each student before directing cars toward designated drop-off areas for each grade level.
In the school courtyard, a methodical traffic flow was enforced, with stickers on the ground marking 6 feet of distance. Classrooms featured small desks equipped with sneeze guards spaced 4 feet apart.
After receiving approval from the California Department of Public Health for its reopening waiver last Thursday, allowing the school to bring back students in grades K-6, classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday in preparation for students' return.
"I’m excited, just excited to see the students again, because they’ve basically been gone since March. They’re going to be excited, too, to see their teachers and see their friends," Fox said on Tuesday.
School officials began the waiver process nearly a month ago, with their application reviewed by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department before being sent to the state for final approval.
Nineteen schools and two school districts in Santa Barbara County had received waiver approval as of Wednesday, according to the state.
While the return has been long-anticipated, Fox said St. Louis de Montfort staff also are prepared for the challenges of ensuring that students, especially younger ones, are complying with health guidelines.
This could be especially hard during recess, she said. Only two classes will go to recess at a time, and due to cohorting guidelines, the two groups will be required to stay on opposite sides of the field to prevent mixing.
The play structure will be off-limits for the time being, and students will not be permitted to make physical contact with one another during recess, requiring both kids and staff to be creative.
"They’ll still have room to run, and they still get to be with their friends," Fox said. "They have a lot of area to spread out in. Next week, we might have hula hoops, jump ropes, and other things they can do separately."
Classrooms will be sanitized four times daily by teachers, aides and maintenance staff, Fox said. Maintaining further cleanliness, however, will require patience with students.
"It’s all training — training them how to wash their hands for 20 seconds, not to hug one another," she said.
While the majority of K-6 students opted to return to campus this week, around 20 students will continue learning from home, Fox said. For this reason, teachers will livestream their lessons on an iPad set up in their classrooms.
Each of the school's 28 staff members also will be required to complete a COVID-19 test every two months at a site of their choosing, and all staff completed baseline testing prior to the Wednesday reopening, Fox said.
During the first week of in-person learning, students will be dismissed at 12:30 Wednesday through Friday. Moving forward, the weeks will typically consist of full days from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and a half day on Fridays, according to Fox.
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