Wednesday was the first day back on campus for some of San Ramon Valley Unified School District's youngest students, as in-person learning returned to the district for elementary schools after nearly 11 months of remote-only instruction brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Approximately 10,000 students are projected to return to their campuses over the next week according to SRVUSD Superintendent John Malloy, who oversaw the reintroduction of transitional kindergarten (TK) through second-grade students to the physical classroom.
"We have followed every precaution, we have worked through every requirement, and we have said to our families and to our staff that we are going to oversee (safety) very closely because we know that's so important in order for our kids to be safe and for our staff to be safe here at school," Malloy said while welcoming students back to Greenbrook Elementary School in Danville.
"We're excited that the kids are coming back today," he added.
After receiving the go ahead from Contra Costa Health Services and reaching the criteria needed to reopen, TK-2 students were the first to return to hybrid in-person learning on Wednesday, while students in third through fifth grade and special day classes (SDC) are set to return on Feb. 17.
According to Malloy, approximately one third of students who are eligible to return to in-person instruction have elected to do so, while the families of the remaining two-thirds -- about 20,000 students -- have opted to stick with remote learning through the end of the school year.
These figures roughly match the survey taken by district staff in November, where a significant majority of families said they would rather have their students stay with remote learning over returning to a hybrid in-person model during the pandemic.
"Right now, we've heard pretty significantly from all of the families that wanted to return that they're coming back. So in other words we are not getting anybody changing their decision based upon our reopening," Malloy said. "The data that we gathered in November is pretty much what's happening now."
Malloy also noted that members of the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA) -- the SRVUSD's teachers' union -- also agreed with the precautions made to return to in-person instruction, with 92% of teachers approving the memorandum of understanding concerning their return.
"I think we're at a point based on that piece of information that -- although there have been certain challenges along the way, people have shared their valid concerns about their safety -- we have worked really hard to meet all of those concerns and 92% acceptance speaks to me of the collaboration that has taken place," Malloy said.
Happy faces -- or eyes, any way -- from students and parents alike could be seen during Wednesday morning's return to school, where families dropped off their children and were left with a sense that life may be starting to return to a point of normalcy not seen since the pandemic began.
Danville dad Brooks Landry, who dropped off two of his daughters at Greenbrook on Wednesday, said, "We've got a third-grader. And this is her (sister's) first day of kindergarten, so it's a unique way to have your first day. But we feel good, we're excited and we're ready for it."
"We had kind of a sleepless night; (the girls) were up because they were so excited. It's good to get them back into a routine," he added.
Landry praised SRVUSD for its efforts to return to school safely, as well as its dedication to keeping parents informed, saying "I think the district has done a fantastic job, they've kept us informed every step of the way. We've had a lot of updates throughout the past year and that's been great."
Local mom Tammy DeClercq echoed the Landry families' excitement, saying it "felt good" to be able to drop her triplets off to their first day of in-person kindergarten.
"I think that it's been a long time coming, so they've had a lot of time to prepare," she said. "I feel like it's a little fast going into today, so it's been a little crazy the past two days. But I feel like they are prepared and were feeling good about safety precautions."
While the SRVUSD is the first public school district to return to in-person learning on a large scale in the Tri-Valley, district officials remain unsure of when secondary school students will be allowed to return to in-person instruction.
According to state guidelines, secondary school students may not return to in-person learning until the county moves out of the most-restrictive purple tier into the less-restrictive red tier -- which is achieved when the county averages no more than seven new cases a day per 100,000 residents for five consecutive days.
Residents can learn more about the SRVUSD's full COVID Safety Plan online at www.srvusd.net.