Students across the state also face the prospect of catching up on learning that may have been lost during last year’s school closures.
In Orange County, Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) began its school year Aug. 12 following the state’s mask mandate for students in classrooms, along with other safety protocols.
Jon Schrank, a parent of a senior student within TUSD, said his main concern was that children “are woefully behind” in their academics.
“Junior year for my girls was the most difficult high school year, academically, and my son skated through it, because it was online. … Collectively, the junior class going into the senior class—that’s the greatest worry,” Schrank told The Epoch Times.
Coming back to school from distance learning has led students like Mallory Miles, a senior at Foothill High School in TUSD, to note how strange it feels to be back in a classroom environment.
“I remember the first day—a couple days ago—right when me and my friends all got to school, we all looked at each other and just said how weird it was to see everybody there,” Mallory told The Epoch Times.
“It was not normal to see that big group of people. And when we got in the classrooms, they work so differently now. The seating and the placement, and the arrangement of everything is just completely different,” she said.
She said the desks are “spread out from one another,” while the teachers’ desks are distanced further from the students, with some teachers having plastic shields around their desks. Some teachers are opting to switch all paper handouts to digital, she said.
Mallory’s mom, Heidi Miles, said the school year got off to a “rocky start,” following a middle school student’s removal from class in TUSD for not wearing a mask.
“I one hundred percent do not agree with the mask mandate. These children have to breathe. They have to show their faces, and they need to get back to normal,” Heidi told The Epoch Times.
“These kids need to be able to show expressions when they’re together—their entire world was turned upside down when the pandemic hit. And they already have social media that is standing in their way of being completely engaged and making connections with one another, so that is already standing in their way of living a normal life, so they don’t need to have their faces covered up,” she said.
Mallory said she’s happy to be going back to school; however, Mallory and her peers are having trouble adjusting to the new normal, as many “students have forgotten just how to be there.”
“Being a teenager, it’s not very fun to see everyone with a mask on; it’s kind of depressing,” she said.
Mallory said the masks have caused a distraction to her learning, as summer temperatures steady. She said when students adjust the mask, the teachers are “right on your back telling you to put it back on.”
Mallory said she is “not a fan” of the mask mandate and doesn’t “really see the point of them,” especially when they “mandate them inside the classroom, but then once we step outside and really get up close with all of our friends and in a really big group, they’re fine with us not wearing it.”
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) started classes on Aug. 16 with even stricter guidelines for students. Some schools had lines wrapped around the school grounds as students waited to be tested before entering.
Students and staff in LAUSD are required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing regardless of their vaccination status.