Back to school, online and on campus: Local public and private schools welcome students in different ways

La Jolla Elementary third-grade teacher Joan Boyle (inset) welcomes her class via Zoom on Aug. 31, the first day of school.
La Jolla Elementary School third-grade teacher Joan Boyle (inset) welcomes her class via Zoom on Aug. 31, the first day of school.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

It’s a new school year across San Diego County, and schools in La Jolla are resuming classes after summer vacation. But they’re not all doing it the same way — private schools are reopening for in-person teaching, while public schools are remaining online.

All local schools scheduled their first day of the 2020-21 academic year between Aug. 18 and Sept. 1. None had taught students on campus since March because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

La Jolla private schools started preparing recently to welcome students back to in-person learning in light of the county’s expectation that all schools would be allowed to reopen Sept. 1 if the county kept its coronavirus case rate below 100 per 100,000 people.

Eight local private schools already had applied for waivers to allow them to reopen their campuses for kindergarten through sixth grade, even if higher grades couldn’t.

Gillispie, La Jolla Country Day, San Diego French American, Stella Maris Academy, All Hallows Academy, and The Children’s, The Bishop’s and The Evans schools applied for the waiver. All but All Hallows had been approved as of Aug. 26. The county suspended the application process Aug. 24 in anticipation of all schools being allowed to reopen.

The five La Jolla public schools did not apply for waivers to reopen. They are part of the San Diego Unified School District, which began the school year online Aug. 31, with strict reopening guidelines that could keep classrooms closed for months. The district plans to offer optional in-person, on-campus help for elementary students who are struggling academically or not meeting special-education goals.

Public school

At La Jolla Elementary School, one of the five schools in SDUSD’s La Jolla Cluster, third-grade teacher Joan Boyle welcomed 24 students to her class via the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

The hour-long morning session was part of SDUSD’s Welcome Week activities in which all students attend daily Zoom sessions with their teachers and participate in online training modules and other independent activities the rest of the first five days of school.

As the San Diego Unified School District nears the beginning of its new school year Monday, Aug. 31, its five La Jolla schools are preparing to teach their students online and are sharing information about their plans with the community.

Aug. 24, 2020

Boyle — who has 24 years’ experience in teaching, the past 16 at LJES — went over her new motto, “Relax, Breathe, Embrace, Laugh.”

She surveyed her new students for their comfort level with Zoom; most indicated they were very confident with it.

She then used Zoom’s poll feature to ask students how they were feeling; 40 percent of the third-graders answered that they were excited.

Boyle introduced her “Krazy Kitchen Digital School,” sharing her screen to orient the students to the Google Classroom platform used by SDUSD teachers to post assignments and communicate with students.

Calling her newest class “Mountain Movers,” Boyle said “this is a different school year, do you agree? You are the mountain movers, because you are truly going to move mountains. You are the year that people are going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, remember that year?’ You are resilient, you are incredible.”

Boyle explained the tentative daily schedule, pointing out the portions of the day when students would “Zoom in” to whole-group activities on camera and “Zoom out” to independent work times. The district plans a six-hour learning day with movement in and out of direct online instruction.

The Zoom session included opportunities for the students to stand and stretch, and Boyle laid out her biographical information in a few colorful slides.

She then explained a “virtual backpack” assignment in which students would fill a backpack illustration to share biographical information with their classmates. She also read a storybook aloud. Then she wished her students a good rest of the day.

“I am very excited to pick up the reins again,” Boyle told the La Jolla Light via email. “It’s been a long summer at home.”

Private school

San Diego French American School used its authority under the waiver to reopen its La Jolla campus Aug. 28 for preschoolers through sixth-graders, according to a statement from Head of School Mark Rosenblum.

“We welcomed back 22 classes of children in cohorts in size from eight to 16 students,” Rosenblum said. All students in kindergarten and up wear masks per the school’s reopening plan.

A San Diego French American School student undergoes a temperature screening as part of the school's in-person reopening.

“Staggered drop-off and screening procedures at four different campus access locations planned to accommodate vehicle traffic flow functioned efficiently like clockwork,” he said. “On-campus and in-classroom protocols worked well.”

On Sept. 1, the third day of school, La Jollan Michelle Landin walked her fifth-grade son through the SDFAS temperature screening. “We’re very happy” to be back at school, she told the Light. “We think the school did a great job, being very thoughtful.”

Students arriving at San Diego French American School undergo health screenings in staggered arrival times.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Allison Owens, a parent of third- and sixth-graders at the school, said “the whole thing has been incredible. ... This is smooth, the drop-off is staggered, the kids are wearing their masks.”

Owens said her daughters’ “relief is huge” at being able to return. “We’re a community who really supported coming back.”

The school’s seventh- and eighth-graders are scheduled to return Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Students also may choose to remain at home for distance learning, Rosenblum said.

La Jolla Country Day School, which serves preschool through 12th grade and began its school year online Aug. 19, is “implementing a phased reopening plan to welcome students in each division back on campus,” according to Head of School Gary Krahn. “Our goal is to safely and gradually increase the density of students on campus throughout September and early October. The schedule has been carefully crafted to allow for time to refine and advance safety policies and protocols accordingly. It also ensures that students have time to adjust to new protocols and expectations.”

LJCDS plans to bring its kindergarten and first-grade students on campus Monday, Sept. 14 — preschoolers already are allowed there — for half-day instruction. Another grade will be added every few days, ending with 12th-graders allowed in person on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

At Stella Maris Academy, which began the school year Aug. 24 with distance learning, Principal Francie Moss said transitional kindergartners will return to campus Thursday, Sept. 3. The school will add first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students Sept. 8-9, then ask them to stay home Sept. 10-11 as second-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders return.

Moss said dividing the students’ schedules will make it “easier to learn the routines; it allows us to work out any hiccups in our routine. By [Sept.] 14, everybody will be back on campus.”

Moss said those who do not wish to return in person have the option to continue learning from home.

“We’re excited,” Moss said. “We feel we’ve done everything possible to make the environment as safe as possible for the students.”

The Bishop’s School, which began with online learning Aug. 18, will start bringing students on campus in two-day increments, one grade at a time, according to a schedule listed on its website. Its sixth-graders will be first Sept. 2-3.

“Our goal is to have a safe and sustainable opening,” said Assistant Head of School Michael Beamer. “We are taking a methodical approach to reopening.”

The two-day-at-a-time system is designed to make sure “everybody understands the policies and procedures without worrying about overcrowding,” Beamer said.

“We want to have students back on campus … [and] as we live through this phase-in process, there will be opportunities to assess what’s working,” Beamer said. “We need to make sure we can manage our population on campus in small groups before we can think about having larger groups.”

Beamer said that about 80 percent of Bishop’s families had indicated they would opt for in-person instruction.

The Children’s School planned to welcome students up to sixth grade on campus for its first day of school Aug. 31, using the approved waiver, then bring its seventh- and eighth-graders back Sept. 2, according to a letter on its website from Head of School John Fowler.

“We are hopeful that the beginning of the school year will mark a return to some degree of normalcy for all of our families, even as we acknowledge that we continue to operate under the constraints imposed by the virus,” Fowler wrote. “Our children’s long-term stability depends on the ability of the adults who love them to manage this crisis with both prudence and optimism.”

All Hallows Academy started its school year virtually Aug. 26 and plans a gradual return to campus starting Friday, Sept. 4, with transitional kindergarten, according to Principal Mary Skeen.

A phased approach for kindergarten through second grade, grades 3-5 and grades 6-8 will happen over the next few weeks, with all grades expected to be back on campus by Wednesday, Sept. 16, she said.

Gillispie School did not respond to the La Jolla Light’s requests for comment, but according to its website, it will begin welcoming students in person a week after its Sept. 1 start date, with kindergarten and first grade returning Sept. 8.

The Evans School did not respond to requests for comment, and its website did not contain specifics on when its campus would reopen.