Visalia Unified brings youngest students back for in-person learning

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Highland Elementary School kindergartener Isabella Morales admits she had some first day of school jitters.

"Because I didn't know if some people would talk to me," she said.

Mom was a little nervous too, but for a different reason: the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Visalia and Tulare County.

But after months of distance learning, Estrella Diaz decided Isabella should start in-person learning as soon as possible.

"She has to learn, she has to communicate with other people, other kids, you know?" Diaz said. "She can't just be stuck at home."

In late October, Visalia Unified School District's elementary school waiver was approved by local and state health officials.

District officials planned for TK through 2nd graders to return on November 30th, but teachers and parents voiced concerns about the spread of COVID in the community and over Thanksgiving.

So the start date was pushed back until Monday.

"The staff was excited, the kids were excited," Visalia Superintendent Tamara Ravalin said on Monday. "It was just so heartwarming to see our students back on campus."

Ravalin says survey results show that 39% of elementary school student families will continue with distance learning.

Returning students, who have been split into morning and afternoon groups, will notice many changes related to the district's coronavirus health and safety protocols.

"There's directional arrows in hallways," Ravalin said. "Students are not sharing books or pencils or crayons or any of those things. Desks are spaced far apart, they're wearing masks."

Ravalin added that the district also purchased HEPA filters for every school classroom.

In one week, the district will bring back the older elementary school students, 3rd through 6th graders.

But first, they will consult with Tulare County Public Health, a department that recently scaled back its waiver system due to elevated COVID-19 case rates.

"That partnership with our health professionals is invaluable," Ravalin said. "We're going to be meeting with them again this Thursday to track really how things are going, how our implementation is going, to have a conversation with them and then to look at the numbers again sort of in the county overall."
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