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‘Thrilled to be back’: La Jolla public schools take on a new school year, masks not required

For the first time in three academic years, students at La Jolla’s five public schools could leave face masks at home as the San Diego Unified School District began the 2022-23 school year Aug. 29.

San Diego Unified dropped its requirement for masks just ahead of the school year after requiring them upon opening for the 2021-22 session as a COVID-19 safety measure. They also had been required during the previous school year. Masks became optional in April this year as COVID measures were eased, but they were required again for the latter part of summer school.

The absence of the mask mandate for the new school year added to a sense of returning to normal in the wake of the pandemic shutdown of school campuses and the introduction of distance learning between March 2020 and April 2021.

School site metrics for outbreaks will be used to determine when masking is needed.

Some students may grumble about waking up earlier after the summer break, and other locals may lament the thickening traffic around campuses, but principals of La Jolla’s public schools say they’re excited about returning for the 2022-23 school year.

“We’re excited,” Melissa McNutt, whose son Reeve started second grade at La Jolla Elementary School, told the La Jolla Light. “It’s amazing [to start without masks required]. COVID is a part of life now. I think it’s nice they can mingle more.”

Reeve said he’s looking forward to learning math in second grade.

Also at La Jolla Elementary, Ocean Fletcher walked into kindergarten ready to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps.

His father, Eric Fletcher, said Ocean is looking forward to making new friends.

Fletcher’s older sons, Dylan and Wyatt, also attended LJES but now go to La Jolla High and Muirlands Middle schools, respectively. Fletcher said he’s happy to have another child at LJES and plans to get involved on campus.

“LJES is such a great community,” he said.

Travis Howard’s three children are new to La Jolla Elementary this year, starting transitional kindergarten and first and third grades.

Howard said he’s not looking forward to rising early to get them to school but is counting on building a routine.

Third-grader Lily Howard said she’s excited “but also kinda scared,” as she anticipates many differences between third and second grades. But she can’t wait to “learn more stuff,” she added.

First-grader Nirvana Howard expressed excitement but also nervousness.

As Torrey Pines Elementary School fourth-grader Ava Woodhouse and first-grader Lana Woodhouse headed back to campus, their mother, Michelle, said, “We are thrilled to be back with our [TPES] family kicking off the … academic year.”

Calvin Szotko, a TPES second-grader, said he’s most excited to see his friends again and meet his new teacher.

Katherine Williams, a parent of four kids in elementary, middle and high schools across La Jolla, said this year is particularly nostalgic for her, as her youngest child, in fifth grade at TPES, will conclude the family’s 11 years at the school.

“TPES is a special community,” Williams said, “and we’re excited for a wonderful school year.”

La Jolla High School junior Triton Stewart drove himself to school for the first time Aug. 29. His mother, Dawniel Stewart, said Triton is excited to be back to school for the opportunity to learn, work toward his goals and see his friends each day.

Daniella Solkhon, also a junior at LJHS, said she’s “happy for the school year to start up again, but I wish summer were longer.”

She said she’s most excited about homecoming, football games and other sports.

Her brother Michael, in eighth grade at Muirlands, said he was looking forward to seeing his friends and teachers again and that he can’t wait for Muirlands’ sports program to start its second year.

Daniella and Michael’s mother, Monica Solkhon, said this year is special because it’s Michael’s last year in middle school and Daniella will be “navigating which career she wants to pursue.”

Their father, David Solkhon, said starting without masks for a more normal school year makes him happy, as “the kids can concentrate on learning, sports, socializing and reaching their full potential.” ◆