The doors opened wide on Tuesday in the Chino Valley school district for high school and junior high students returning to classrooms that had been empty for a year.

“It could not have gone better today, I’m so very proud of teachers, staff and students,” said Kim Cabrera, principal of Don Lugo High.

The Chino school had been planning for this day since June 2020, she said.

“Not having children on campus has been difficult emotionally. I really do think this is the best thing for students,” she added.

Full-time instruction five days a week will start Monday, April 12 at the high schools and junior high schools and on Tuesday, April 6 at the elementary schools.

Until then, instruction will remain a mix of virtual and in-person.

Students who elected to continue with virtual leaning from home will continue that model through the end of the school year.

Dr. Cabrera said she is “excited and ecstatic” for students to return full time.

Don Lugo students entering the campus Tuesday walked past a thermo scanner device that takes temperatures of up to seven students at a time.

Assistant principal Michelle Eckersall  monitored a video screen as students walked down a hallway.

Numbers flashed above their heads as she watched for the color red that might indicate a student had a temperature. 

If that happened, an evaluation would have been done to determine if the student was ill.

Students with symptoms of coronavirus must isolate for 10 days before they can return to campus, Dr. Cabrera said.

Scans from Tuesday and Wednesday did not detect any possible temperatures, she said.

Students were given hand wipes from teachers upon entering classrooms and sat in assigned desks enclosed with plastic shields.

The desks have numbers for contact tracing if a student tests positive for coronavirus.

They were shown a power point presentation in their first class that included how to show respect for classmates who may have different ideas about personal space.

Dr. Cabrera said physical separation can be difficult for teenagers.

“We anticipated wearing masks being the biggest challenge, but there were no issues. I think this has been a way of life for them for almost a year. This is what they do,” she said.

Students received advance notice about the temperature monitors, mask requirements and a required walking route when changing classes.

The route was practiced by students walking in groups led by their first period teachers.

“All students need to be moving in the same direction to minimize traffic,” Dr. Cabrera said.

Don Lugo is using a Positive Behavior Intervention Support System approach to teach school-wide expectations and the new safety rules.

English teacher Annette Deming helped create the guidance for teachers that includes letting their students know “we see you, we hear you and we’re here for you.”

Mrs. Deming said successful students are taught how to manage their stress and anxiety in whatever situation they find themselves in.

“Through virtual learning we have this growing sense of concern for students’ mindsets,” she said. “We really need to address stress and depression.”

The school website has tools to help with relaxation and mindfulness techniques. 

Ms. Deming said the students have been attending school all year, and it’s important “they finish strong.”

Dr. Cabrera said an in-person graduation ceremony is planned for the school stadium. Event details will follow, she said.

Chino Valley school district spokeswoman Imee Perius said, “The California Department of Public Health’s update to requirements for in-person instruction reflects physical distancing guidance that allows students to return to school everyday.”

The health department does not require the use of student desk shields in the classroom, however, the district provides all classrooms with desk shields, she said.

Ms. Perius said all district staff have been provided the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. 

“We are looking forward to welcoming students back to campus on a daily basis as it has always been our goal to welcome students back to in-person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said. 

The district has COVID-19 Safety Plan Guidelines for Reopening Schools and each school implements safety measures as recommended by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The safety plan includes face masks, temperature checks, air filters, handwashing and disinfecting stations, and distancing guidelines set by federal, state and local health agencies.

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