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Back to school: High school students start fall term on campus for the first time in 2 years

Some nerves, but many are excited to dump their computers for in-person face time

Woodside High School Principal Karen van Putten, right, looks over student's orientation materials before they leave on Aug. 10, 2021. Photo by Adam Pardee

In the spring of 2020, Claudia Nolasco, then a sophomore at Woodside High School, prepared to spend two weeks at home amid the increasing spread of COVID-19. Little did she know it would be a whole 17 months later that she'd finally return to campus.

This week, Menlo-Atherton, Woodside and TIDE Academy students are attending classes full time for the first time since the pandemic led to shutdowns in March 2020. While some students returned last spring to take classes on a hybrid basis, Nolasco, now a senior, had no choice but to continue to stay home; she, like many of her peers, had to care for her two elementary school aged brothers who hadn't returned to classrooms yet.

"I was out of it and tired from staring at the screen all day," Nolasco said of her experience with remote learning outside the school's new gym on a sunny day on the Woodside school's campus a day before classes began. Now, she's excited to be back on campus. "I missed it so much. ... I missed the chickens (which reside in Woodside High's garden)."

Woodside senior AJ Richter said their part-time return to campus last spring was "strange." They said school was "really empty" and recalled one class in which they were the only student in the classroom while the teacher taught to others online as well (called "Zooming and rooming," which Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Crystal Leach said the district does not plan to continue with this school year).

Woodside's new principal, Karen van Putten, said the energy on campus is positive.

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"People are hungry for connections," she said.

Jill Ohline said she's "cautiously optimistic" about sending her daughter, a freshman, and son, a senior, back to Woodside's campus since the rise in cases linked to the more contagious delta variant. She said her son spent most of his time socializing on the messaging app Discord and through gaming; she's feeling lucky he likely won't graduate while in lockdown. She does feel sad half of his time in high school was spent taking courses remotely. Both of her teenagers are vaccinated against COVID-19, but she knows one adult and one child who have contracted breakthrough cases of the virus, which are infections that occur in some vaccinated people.

Advanced Placement Biology teacher Joe Ezrati, who has taught at Woodside for 16 years, said in many ways last school year felt akin to his first year of teaching; he spent ample time revamping his curriculum for virtual learning.

"I missed the best part of teaching, which is working with kids," he said.

Edith Salvatore, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association, said there's definitely a mix of emotions among teachers — excitement to get back to face-to-face teaching (albeit with masks) and being able to see students mixed with apprehension about the "unknown."

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"Those with younger children at home (those under 12 who can't be vaccinated yet) are especially anxious, I think ... I'm among them ... wanting to be extra sure we follow all the protocols and don't accidentally bring something home to the kids," she said in an email on the first day of school Wednesday. "I've already heard from a few members whose kids have either been exposed as 'close contacts' or who were sent home with possible symptoms luckily none have tested positive yet, but it's bound to be happening more and more and exacerbates folks' concerns about needing to miss class and whether or not there will be substitutes to make sure the students can continue to push forward."

I lost six family members during COVID. I share your sentiments of concern and caution.

-Darnise Williams, Sequoia district Superintendent

Not all students have returned to campus, however. New legislation requires the district to offer an independent study option to students whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year. Although the district doesn't have a final tally yet, it should have a better idea of how many students decided to stay home this school year sometime this week, said Bonnie Hansen, assistant superintendent of educational services, in an Aug. 6 email.

Concern over district vaccination rates

During an Aug. 5 Parent Community Night for the fall opening, some parents said they were concerned that they don't know the district's student COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Superintendent Darnise Williams, who became head of the district in July, said officials are working to survey students on their vaccination status, but it's voluntary for students to share if they've been inoculated. She noted that the district hopes to collect those numbers by September.

"I lost six family members during COVID," she told parents. "I share your sentiments of concern and caution."

District Health and Wellness Coordinator Javier Gutierrez said the district will ask staff members about their vaccination status and have that data in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all California school employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly.

Salvatore said the district sent out a document on Tuesday, Aug. 10, asking employees to attest to their vaccination status, but no proof was required; the district said it could ask for it in the future.

Ernest Lo, who is in his 22nd year teaching biology at Woodside High, said he is concerned about the spread of the variant.

"I hope we are encouraging more vaccinations for all students," he said.

COVID-19 protocols

The district shared its reopening plan on its website, which includes information on ventilation and COVID-19 safety measures.

"While we are not out of the pandemic, we have made some progress," Williams said during the Aug. 5 meeting. "So we have taken action so we make sure your children are safe and that staff members are safe. ... I come to you with leveled emotion, excitement of course, but also caution about our students." She also noted that as scientists learn more about the virus variants, such as the delta variant, the district will adjust its protocols accordingly.

The district will keep extra masks at school sites for those who lost theirs or forgot to bring a mask, said Gutierrez.

If a students keeps choosing to not wear a mask, the district will provide an "educational opportunity." The district will reinforce the requirement to wear a mask indoors and find out if there are other reasons the student is not wearing a mask. Ultimately, the final option would be for the student to enroll in an independent study program, he said.

When possible, students and staff are encouraged to remain at least 6 feet apart. However, indoor distancing may be less than 3 feet, if necessary, to accommodate students' in-person learning, according to the district reopening plan.

The district defines a "close contact" to a positive case as being "within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. In general, cumulative within a 24 hour period."

All students, staff, and visitors are required to screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and/or potential exposure daily before entering any school campus or facility. The questionnaire asks about symptoms and possible exposure to the virus.

Staff and students that test positive for COVID-19 must report their positive case to school administration and isolate at home for at least 10 days since the date their symptoms began or the date they tested if asymptomatic. Those with positive cases should also contact their health care provider.

Staff and students with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend in-person instruction until they have a negative COVID-19 test and symptoms are gone for 24 hours without medication, or until they isolate at home for at least 10 days since their symptoms began.

Woodside High School seniors arrive on campus check in at orientation on Aug. 10, 2021. Photo by Adam Pardee

Students and staff who come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they are vaccinated and not showing symptoms. If they are unvaccinated and come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and both were wearing masks, they will quarantine for 10 to 14 days or continue attending school if they are not showing symptoms, get tested twice a week over a 10-day period and won't participate in any extracurricular activities, including sports or clubs.

If an unvaccinated person comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and they were not wearing a mask, they must quarantine for at least 10 days since the last exposure and cannot participate in any extracurricular activities. The quarantine can end after the seventh day if the individual is tested on day five from the date of the last exposure and the results are negative. Individuals must continue to self-monitor for symptoms for up to 14 days from the last known exposure and follow all health and safety protocols.

For more on the district's reopening plan, go here.

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Back to school: High school students start fall term on campus for the first time in 2 years

Some nerves, but many are excited to dump their computers for in-person face time

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Aug 12, 2021, 11:13 am

In the spring of 2020, Claudia Nolasco, then a sophomore at Woodside High School, prepared to spend two weeks at home amid the increasing spread of COVID-19. Little did she know it would be a whole 17 months later that she'd finally return to campus.

This week, Menlo-Atherton, Woodside and TIDE Academy students are attending classes full time for the first time since the pandemic led to shutdowns in March 2020. While some students returned last spring to take classes on a hybrid basis, Nolasco, now a senior, had no choice but to continue to stay home; she, like many of her peers, had to care for her two elementary school aged brothers who hadn't returned to classrooms yet.

"I was out of it and tired from staring at the screen all day," Nolasco said of her experience with remote learning outside the school's new gym on a sunny day on the Woodside school's campus a day before classes began. Now, she's excited to be back on campus. "I missed it so much. ... I missed the chickens (which reside in Woodside High's garden)."

Woodside senior AJ Richter said their part-time return to campus last spring was "strange." They said school was "really empty" and recalled one class in which they were the only student in the classroom while the teacher taught to others online as well (called "Zooming and rooming," which Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Crystal Leach said the district does not plan to continue with this school year).

Woodside's new principal, Karen van Putten, said the energy on campus is positive.

"People are hungry for connections," she said.

Jill Ohline said she's "cautiously optimistic" about sending her daughter, a freshman, and son, a senior, back to Woodside's campus since the rise in cases linked to the more contagious delta variant. She said her son spent most of his time socializing on the messaging app Discord and through gaming; she's feeling lucky he likely won't graduate while in lockdown. She does feel sad half of his time in high school was spent taking courses remotely. Both of her teenagers are vaccinated against COVID-19, but she knows one adult and one child who have contracted breakthrough cases of the virus, which are infections that occur in some vaccinated people.

Advanced Placement Biology teacher Joe Ezrati, who has taught at Woodside for 16 years, said in many ways last school year felt akin to his first year of teaching; he spent ample time revamping his curriculum for virtual learning.

"I missed the best part of teaching, which is working with kids," he said.

Edith Salvatore, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association, said there's definitely a mix of emotions among teachers — excitement to get back to face-to-face teaching (albeit with masks) and being able to see students mixed with apprehension about the "unknown."

"Those with younger children at home (those under 12 who can't be vaccinated yet) are especially anxious, I think ... I'm among them ... wanting to be extra sure we follow all the protocols and don't accidentally bring something home to the kids," she said in an email on the first day of school Wednesday. "I've already heard from a few members whose kids have either been exposed as 'close contacts' or who were sent home with possible symptoms luckily none have tested positive yet, but it's bound to be happening more and more and exacerbates folks' concerns about needing to miss class and whether or not there will be substitutes to make sure the students can continue to push forward."

Not all students have returned to campus, however. New legislation requires the district to offer an independent study option to students whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year. Although the district doesn't have a final tally yet, it should have a better idea of how many students decided to stay home this school year sometime this week, said Bonnie Hansen, assistant superintendent of educational services, in an Aug. 6 email.

During an Aug. 5 Parent Community Night for the fall opening, some parents said they were concerned that they don't know the district's student COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Superintendent Darnise Williams, who became head of the district in July, said officials are working to survey students on their vaccination status, but it's voluntary for students to share if they've been inoculated. She noted that the district hopes to collect those numbers by September.

"I lost six family members during COVID," she told parents. "I share your sentiments of concern and caution."

District Health and Wellness Coordinator Javier Gutierrez said the district will ask staff members about their vaccination status and have that data in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all California school employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly.

Salvatore said the district sent out a document on Tuesday, Aug. 10, asking employees to attest to their vaccination status, but no proof was required; the district said it could ask for it in the future.

Ernest Lo, who is in his 22nd year teaching biology at Woodside High, said he is concerned about the spread of the variant.

"I hope we are encouraging more vaccinations for all students," he said.

The district shared its reopening plan on its website, which includes information on ventilation and COVID-19 safety measures.

"While we are not out of the pandemic, we have made some progress," Williams said during the Aug. 5 meeting. "So we have taken action so we make sure your children are safe and that staff members are safe. ... I come to you with leveled emotion, excitement of course, but also caution about our students." She also noted that as scientists learn more about the virus variants, such as the delta variant, the district will adjust its protocols accordingly.

The district will keep extra masks at school sites for those who lost theirs or forgot to bring a mask, said Gutierrez.

If a students keeps choosing to not wear a mask, the district will provide an "educational opportunity." The district will reinforce the requirement to wear a mask indoors and find out if there are other reasons the student is not wearing a mask. Ultimately, the final option would be for the student to enroll in an independent study program, he said.

When possible, students and staff are encouraged to remain at least 6 feet apart. However, indoor distancing may be less than 3 feet, if necessary, to accommodate students' in-person learning, according to the district reopening plan.

The district defines a "close contact" to a positive case as being "within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes. In general, cumulative within a 24 hour period."

All students, staff, and visitors are required to screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and/or potential exposure daily before entering any school campus or facility. The questionnaire asks about symptoms and possible exposure to the virus.

Staff and students that test positive for COVID-19 must report their positive case to school administration and isolate at home for at least 10 days since the date their symptoms began or the date they tested if asymptomatic. Those with positive cases should also contact their health care provider.

Staff and students with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend in-person instruction until they have a negative COVID-19 test and symptoms are gone for 24 hours without medication, or until they isolate at home for at least 10 days since their symptoms began.

Students and staff who come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they are vaccinated and not showing symptoms. If they are unvaccinated and come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and both were wearing masks, they will quarantine for 10 to 14 days or continue attending school if they are not showing symptoms, get tested twice a week over a 10-day period and won't participate in any extracurricular activities, including sports or clubs.

If an unvaccinated person comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and they were not wearing a mask, they must quarantine for at least 10 days since the last exposure and cannot participate in any extracurricular activities. The quarantine can end after the seventh day if the individual is tested on day five from the date of the last exposure and the results are negative. Individuals must continue to self-monitor for symptoms for up to 14 days from the last known exposure and follow all health and safety protocols.

For more on the district's reopening plan, go here.

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