Pleasanton Unified School District reopened its doors for pre-K through second grade on Thursday morning, almost one week to the year since students were sent home for remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arriving by car and on foot, wearing face masks and shields, parents escorted their children to PUSD's elementary sites that morning, where they were warmly greeted by staff and district cabinet members waiting outside.
Though she normally handles clerical duties at Alisal Elementary School, receptionist Amy Wood joined several dozen other staff members as part of an "all hands on deck" effort to welcome back students on Thursday.
"We are definitely all working together to make this happen," Wood told the Weekly. "I'm impressed at how easily it's running. Not quite as many people out here, but it's working well, this is great."
The atmosphere Thursday could easily be compared to the first day of school -- which was officially back in August -- with parents reporting that their students were specially prepared for the big day.
"I cried walking him across the street; it felt really good," said Jen Kratochvil when arriving at Alisal with her son Knox that morning. "I'm so happy I feel so relieved for him. He was so excited too, he got up really early today and picked out his outfit on Monday. I'm really happy for him; he's been waiting for this."
Jasmine Alvarez's kindergartener, Joshua, was also "so excited" about coming back to school, she said.
"He laid out his clothes last night and he's ready to go back to school. He even said, 'I'm ready to go back to school'," Alvarez said.
Select stable cohorts of students have been on-site for certain programs since summer, but this week marked the beginning of a return to normalcy for many Pleasanton families that had reported struggling with the virtual curriculum since March 2020.
Families still have the option to remain in remote learning, as required by state law, but parent Fionnuala Killian told the Weekly that her family feels "like we've made the right choice" when dropping off her first-grader Max on Thursday.
"It's great that everyone has options to stay at home as well and make their own decisions, but for us it worked. With our schedule, we're feeling good about it," Killian said.
Face masks must be worn by everyone on campus at all times, and social distancing between students is being reinforced. With students split into morning and afternoon sessions for on-site instruction, about half as many students than usual will be physically present in class at any given time.
Students in grades 3 to 5 can return beginning on Monday (March 8), with secondary grades tentatively set to come back on March 11, should Alameda County reach the red tier of the state's COVID-19 case monitoring system by March 9.
As of March 4, the adjusted case rate in Alameda County is 6.3 per 100,000 and remained in the purple tier.