By Collin Breaux | Email: cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com | Twitter: @collin_breaux

For the first time since March, Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) students are back on campuses for in-person learning.

Elementary students began returning to campus last week, as part of a phased resumption of in-person instruction. Middle school returns started on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and high school is slated to start on Oct. 13.

Palisades Elementary School students wore masks and practiced social distancing in their classrooms on Friday, Oct. 2. Principal Lisa Baggio said students know where to sit and stand in line based on marked spots, and the movement of students from class to class has been excellent.

Palisades Elementary School students and staff on campus follow safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Collin Breaux

“We have a really good plan in place,” Baggio said. “We have one-way hallways. The teachers know the routine between sessions.”

Kindergarten teacher Kim Van Dixhorn said she was emotionally moved to see students face-to-face again after “six long months” of physical separation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s what’s good for these kids, and it feels so good to be back in the classroom with them and see them leave and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back tomorrow,’ ” Dixhorn said. “Parents have sent really nice messages about how happy the kids are. We’ve transitioned beautifully.”

Dixhorn said she can give direct instruction and meet individual needs quicker through in-person instruction than she can online.

CUSD students began the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 18 with virtual learning, which they have utilized since March after the CUSD Board of Trustees voted to close campuses as the coronavirus spread.

Students and teachers have variously said they are ready to safely return to in-person instruction, though health concerns have been raised by other teachers and parents.

Under a flexible reopening plan trustees approved in July, students still have the option of online learning if they so choose. Teachers who commented during recent Board of Trustees meetings said having to teach both in-person and online classes is a strain on them.

In-person classroom sizes will be limited, and students’ temperatures will be taken by a teacher or staff member prior to a first session, first class or when boarding the bus.

Palisades Elementary School students and staff on campus follow safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Collin Breaux

A student discipline plan is in place for not wearing facial coverings.

Students at the elementary school level will receive three warnings and then be reassigned to 100% online learning after the fourth violation. Students at the secondary level will receive two warnings and then be reassigned to 100% online learning after the third violation.

Crossing guards have also returned to campuses.

The reopening plans are in accordance with the state’s new color-coded, four-tiered coronavirus monitoring system. Orange County remained in the red tier—the second-highest risk-level tier that permits some reopenings and operations—as of this posting.

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