After a yearlong wait, Galt elementary and high school students began returning to their campuses for in-person learning last Thursday, March 18.

Students across the city were allowed back in the classrooms after spending the past year only seeing their teacher and fellow students through a computer monitor. McCaffrey Middle School students will return tomorrow, Thursday, March 25 for one day of in-person learning before Spring Break.

Students wishing to remain on distance learning have the option to do so.

Galt Joint Union High School District (GJUHSD) split their student population in order to provide social distancing in classrooms. Students whose last names began with the letters A-L reported to their respective school campuses on Thursday and students with last names beginning with M-Z headed to campus on Friday.

The high school district hosted 1,067 in-person learning students over the two-day period – approximately 50% of their student body.

“It was heartwarming and exciting to see large numbers of students back on our campuses for the first time in over a year,” Interim Superintendent Sean Duncan said. “Students and staff were joyful and jubilant. From a safety perspective, students and staff were very mindful of the health protocols we have put in place and were diligent in following them.”

Galt Joint Union Elementary School District (GJUESD) split their students between a.m. and p.m. cohorts. Half the students were able to return Thursday and Friday mornings, with the rest of the students returning later in the afternoon.

GJUESD welcomed 84% of its student population to in-person learning last week.

“The first two days of in-person orientation reminded me of the first day of school in the spring,” GJUESD Superintendent Karen Schauer said. “I saw many, many ‘smiling eyes’ given the cute and colorful face coverings our children were wearing. Parents conveyed to me that they were very happy we were on our way to in-person learning, again, too. I look forward to our middle school starting back this Thursday.”

Local elementary students voiced their joy of returning to campus.

“I am so happy to be back,” said Greer Elementary School fourth grader Ireland. “Math has been really hard for me and when I got back to school, math is already so much easier!”

Twin sister Fiona agreed and said she is so happy to be back with her friends.

Siblings Liam, 10, and Amelia, 9, fourth and third grade students at Marengo Ranch Elementary, both said that, even with the changes, they are so happy to be back and see their friends and their teachers in person.

Fourth grader Kirin from Marengo Ranch said, “I had fun,” however questioned, “Why couldn’t we stay in class longer?”

But overall, she was happy to see her school, her teacher Ms. Cagle and her friends.

Last March, local school officials moved to temporarily close their district campuses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with the hope of reopening after Spring Break 2020. However, that did not happen due to continuously rising cases of virus.

More than 6,000 students then spent the rest of their school year, as well as half of the current academic year, taking online classes or other forms of distance learning.

The local districts planned to reopen their campuses last fall but officials shelved their plans after the state implemented a stay-at-home order on Sacramento County, due to a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations.

October 2020 saw small cohorts of students return to campuses, including students with special needs and elective classes that require hands-on learning, such as welding and mechanics.

Last month, a steady drop in COVID cases across much of California prompted state officials to revise their policy of when schools can reopen in counties that have the most restricted Purple Tier 1 status. Schools can now begin reopening after the county’s COVID case rate falls below 25 new cases per 100,000 residents.

In late February and early March, both local school boards approved agreements with the certificated and classified unions, which represent the districts’ teachers and support staff, to reopen schools this month, after Sacramento County advanced to the Red Tier 2 status. The county reached that tier on March 16.

Although high school students returning to school will only return to campus twice a week until spring break, district administration is working to have students back on campus four days a week after Spring Break.

In the classroom, teachers simultaneously instruct online and in-person students. Each student also uses a laptop computer at his or her desk when they participate in lessons on online applications such as Zoom.