Just as worries about the Covid-19 pandemic began to wane, new variants of the virus have raised new concerns. We wanted to know how this is affecting parents, educators and students as the new school year begins. Here’s a roundup of responses from our community network to the question:

Please tell us how the continued threat of Covid-19 is affecting your back-to-school experience: What’s working, and what’s not? How are you and your family dealing with the uncertainty?

(Click on the names or images below to read what each person had to say.) 

Katherine Reyes

Student | High school junior at Lompoc Unified School District

The size of my classes (30 students) really concerns me because there is no distancing possible. Requiring masks is good, but without distancing, it weakens protection. My family and I are sanitizing everything before entering our apartment, particularly because we have an elder who has cancer and is bedridden.

Renee Slater

Teacher | Bakersfield

As a teacher and parent, I’m concerned with students not following mask mandates. Without other mitigation strategies, I want to take precautions to stay open.

In-person instruction is where I belong as a teacher, and kids can’t do another Zoom year.

Jonathan Oyaga

Student at UCLA majoring in education and social transformation

As we go back to in-person classes, I am just confused about what’s going to be offered online and what is not. I found the pandemic to be helpful in the sense of navigating college as a first-generation student because all I had to do was go online instead of to the many rooms and many lines. Overall, I’m excited and not too worried about Covid because I am vaccinated. I’m more nervous about accessibility.

Bella Arnold

Student at Cal State Long Beach

I wish that California had been stricter with the mask mandate and requiring vaccines for things like indoor dining over the summer. It felt like we started off the summer in a relatively good place, so I felt ready to go back to school.

Even though I’m vaccinated, the delta variant is very scary to me because I live in a household with children who are not of age to be vaccinated. I feel OK about returning to campus because I attend a CSU, so I know everyone will be vaccinated due to the requirement.

As a whole, I’m just sick of making progress and jumping the gun on opening up because we always end up in the same place with hospitals being overwhelmed and cases going back up.

Pamela Swearingen

Teacher | Los Angeles Unified School District

There are some impacts, but not too many. My classroom sizes are on average about 22 students. We all have to still wear masks and keep a little distance (but the social distancing is not enforced). No one is allowed on campus without proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test result — whether you’ve been vaxxed or not.

Alana Levitt

Preschool director and parent | Los Angeles

As a preschool director, Covid-19 variants are inhibiting us from doing some of the reopening programs we had planned for in June: a return to extended care (morning and afternoon), enrichment classes, in-person community events we had opened to bring back, etc. Additionally, access to routine, free and convenient testing completely misses preschool/daycares.

LAUSD and many other districts provide free testing as a way to mitigate the spread. But early childhood education providers do not have the same access. It’s dangerous for families and staff to not have the same access to testing as the K-12 schools.

Emily Chung

Student at University of Southern California majoring in journalism

As a rising junior at USC, I’ve now spent more time learning on Zoom than I ever spent on campus. In this way, Covid-19 has completely reshaped my perception of and expectations for college. As excited as we all are to return to some sense of normalcy, Covid has redefined what “normal” means in a university setting — and we’re still trying to figure out what that entails.

Though I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be back on campus this year, this transition comes with new responsibilities and boundless unknowns. Dorm life looks different, clubs can’t meet like they used to and classes will be taught in hybrid modalities. With morning symptom checks and weekly testing requirements, Covid protocols will dominate our daily routines. And yet, even with the most robust precautions, there’s no way to know what this semester might hold. In many ways, I am beyond excited to rejoin university life. I can’t wait to catch up with friends, go out for boba and study in the library instead of in my living room. But there are very real fears, as well.

The delta variant is spreading rapidly, and breakthrough infections are penetrating vaccines and masks. Auditorium-size classrooms were once a part of our daily norm, but now the thought of a 300-person lecture is so foreign it almost seems frightening. Thus, despite all the change and the hassle, I am incredibly thankful that our university is taking the right steps. “Normal” college life may be a rippled reflection of what it once was, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to be grateful for every experience and opportunity — and to make the most of them.

Verónica López

Teacher & Parent | Anaheim Union High School

I feel scared and anxious to be back in person. I only went back because I cannot afford to stay home. I’m also sending my own daughters back to school in person because I can’t keep them home and pay someone to care for them at home.

Mia Alva

Student at Cal State Los Angeles majoring in Journalism

I think it has affected me a lot. I really thought things were going well with Covid cases before the delta variant came into play. I was looking forward to having more in-person classes, but now I only have two in-person classes out of the five I am taking. I just wish to experience more of my campus especially since I became a reporter for my student newspaper during the pandemic. I lacking the skills of in-person reporting and what that looks like.

As much as I love to stay home with my cat every day, I loved taking the bus to CSU Los Angeles. It would motivate me to start my day and get things done like reading a book. I am excited to start this new year, and I know professors have gotten a lot better during this transition to online, but it could never beat what I gained and learned in person.

As for my family, my dad is jobless and has been for over six months. Recently he got Covid and thankfully recovered, but it’s just scary. I am 20 years old, and I feel like I am missing out on my fun college experience. I have a hard time working at home with no motivation or positive vibes to keep me going and not having internet has not helped. Every day I am stripped of 30 minutes of my lectures because my hotspot from the school is not strong enough to pick up a connection. It just sucks.

Cynthia Wrona

Parent and home-schooling teacher | Del Mar

We are a high-risk family with three autistic kids. We don’t feel safe sending the boys to school. Our district did away with the distance learning program the boys were in last year. It wasn’t perfect but at least the kids received face time with a teacher, peers and therapists.

Now, the kids’ IEP teams have determined they don’t qualify for independent study. We’re left with no alternative but to switch the unvaccinated younger boys to a charter school that offers remote learning. I will be using their curriculum to home-school, with no therapeutic services for the kids. Given our family health requirements, it was the obvious choice to put the physical health of our children over their emotional growth.

We wish we didn’t need to choose.

Heather Waddell

Parent | Jurupa Unified School District

On the first day back I notified the school of my child having a cough and sinus congestion. She was not feeling well, but they told me to bring her anyway. Unless she had a fever, her absence would not be excused. My first thought was how are they protecting our children if they are allowing sick kids to come to school? Covid does not always present with a fever. I asked what precautions were being taken to protect my child and what would be done if a case of Covid were to happen, and I was completely ignored.

I am now torn between keeping my child in person or going back to virtual learning. I have an immunocompromised child at home I have to consider, and right now I feel as if the staff is being protected more than our children. They’re vaccinated, wearing masks indoors and outdoors and sitting behind plexiglass. My child has to wear a mask indoors but sits right next to another child in a classroom with 30 students who may or may not be sick. No masks in the cafeteria or on the playground and going about the day as if Covid was not spiking again with a new very contagious strain.

I want my child in person at school as much as the next person. It’s important not only for their education but for their mental health, and I understand a feeling of normalcy is also important. However, I wish more precautions were being taken to protect my child and family at home, such as continued social distancing and limited classroom sizes.

I felt safer sending my child to school at the end of the last school year than I do now.

Iman Palm

Graduate Student at New York University | Torrance

The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t changing my back-to-school experience too much since I’ll be starting an online only journalism master’s program. Regardless of the new concerns, I was going to continue my education online.

Since I graduated from college during the pandemic, I’m more familiar with doing online school from my home. This time around I will make sure to manage my time more efficiently and take breaks when needed. I learned last semester that I don’t always need to be active and that taking breaks won’t hinder my academic performance.

My younger sister is starting her senior year of high school online as well since she has a weaker immune system and my mom doesn’t want her returning to campus. My family and I are dealing with the new concerns surrounding the variant as well as we can. We have continued to wear our masks when leaving the house, and we regularly sanitize and disinfect ourselves and the house. We have adopted a new Covid-19 related routine that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Reyna D. Perez

Parent and school psychologist | Paramount Unified School District

I allowed my 12-year-old daughter who is fully vaccinated to attend in-person school.

However, I still want daily sanitizing at the school (which they are doing) and wearing of masks for everyone and 3 feet distance while having lunch. My 11-year-old son is taking the option to stay home and do independent study until the CDC approves the vaccine for his age group. Hopefully soon so he can join his sister in-person.

Brana Flynn

Teacher | Lancaster School District

A grave concern is the inconsistency and conflicting verbiage of the information being provided about safety precautions. Students sit with dividers and masks in my classroom, but shoulder to shoulder at a welcome back assembly in the cafeteria with over 300 kids smashed together and are able to congregate outside without masks because there’s not enough supervision to tell them to put the masks on or separate.

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