Mains Elementary School students demonstrate where to stand and how to use a body-temperature scanner (center) at the entrance to the campus in the school’s “re-opening video” posted to the school and school district websites. | VIDEO CAPTURE
CALEXICO — Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Calexico has been the hardest-hit community in the county, leading in both numbers of cases (7,054) and deaths (230), so it’s no surprise the Calexico Unified School District is approaching a return to in-person instruction with an abundance of caution.
The 9,200-student district, spread out over two high schools, two junior highs, and seven elementary school campuses, is one of the only major public school districts in Imperial County with no instructional cohort back to campus in one way, shape, or form, notwithstanding cohorts for sports practice and competition.
Recently, the district released an early roster of dates in which a phased approach to in-person instruction would begin in the community, which has since been followed up by contact with parents from individual school sites, and a series of “re-opening videos” — many of them as entertaining as they are informative — posted to the district’s website and individual campus websites.
The first students to return for instruction — albeit in a limited fashion — will do so on April 12, with preschoolers, first- and second-graders, eighth-graders, and seniors at Aurora High School. Additional grades will follow in waves on April 19, April 26, and May 3.
“March 16, 2021, (was) officially the one-year mark when CUSD closed all school sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that day, we have worked to prepare our sites for the eventual return of all of our students. The journey has definitely proved to be an effort in perseverance from our staff, students, and community. Through it all, we have risen up to the challenge and steadily made the changes necessary to provide safe and healthy conditions for our staff and students,” Superintendent Carlos R. Gonzales said in a statement.
“We are still navigating the road to recovery and anticipate that there may still be some modifications to be made. We will continue to move forward towards the reopening of our sites on April 12, 2021, and I know that the day will come when all of our students return and we hear the sound of our students back on campus, engaging and continuing on with their educational goals,” Gonzales added.
The district has certainly done the work to bring back students in as safe a manner as possible, if the school site videos produced by each campus are any indication. In every case, the videos show the massive expenditures the district has made to safeguard students through the installation of what could only thousands of linear feet in Plexiglas partitions, advanced temperature-screening equipment, disinfecting machinery in the way of sanitizing misters and spraying devices, huge amounts of signage telling one what to wear, where to stand, and how far apart to doit at every turn, and that’s not to mention tons of hand gel, masks, gloves, and other odds and ends on hand.
All told, the district has spent some $13.5 million in equipment and supplies meant to protect against the spread of COVID.
“We are currently in the process of ensuring that all sites have all of the necessary equipment to begin on April 12. Though most of the equipment has been purchased and installed, site administrators are inventorying each classroom and building to report any additional needs,” Gonzales reported on Tuesday, March 23. “The full cost of what has been spent to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 (e.g., PPE, equipment, technology, infrastructure, trainings, educational programs, etc.) so far is $13,548,515.42.”
Some of the key items each school site is drawing particular attention to include the required health check-ins students must perform before ever even stepping foot on campus each day, such as filling out daily health information on a “Frontline Health Portal” app, walking through an airport-style scanner that checks body temperatures by raising a person’s wrist to a sensor, and high-tech foggers to disinfect all hard surfaces at the end of each day.
As is pretty much the case with every local school district in various stages of returning students to campus, this is not one-size-fits-all, and Gonzales indicated parents will be given choices on when and how their children resume life on campus.
“Currently, parents have been given the choice as to whether their children will remain on a ‘Distance Learning Schedule’ or begin to attend ‘In-Person’ at the school site. A survey has been conducted by each school site to determine the number of students that will be returning in person to the school site. A hybrid schedule will be implemented for those students on campus,” he stated.
Further, there still might be specialized groups, or cohorts returning to Calexico campuses prior to April 12, but that is still being considered.
“There have been discussions of possibly beginning small groups of cohorts on some of the elementary campuses for some at-risk students prior to the April 12 start date,” Gonzales stated. “Our focus, though, will continue to be on the health and safety of staff, students, and the community.”
Beyond those grades mentioned earlier that will return April 12, on April 19, transitional kinder, kindergarten, and third-grade students, ninth-and 12th-graders at Calexico High, and 11th-graders at Aurora will return.
On April 26, fourth- through sixth-graders, seventh-graders, 11th-graders at Calexico High, and ninth- and 10th-grade students at Aurora will return.
Last, on May 3, 10th-grade students at Calexico High will return.