The Long Beach Health Department this week approved its first waivers for four elementary schools to reopen in-person classes for younger students.

The catch? All are private schools. The vast majority of Long Beach students—those who attend public schools—won’t have a chance to return to campuses until at least Jan. 28.

Despite a recent announcement by the city that they’d accept waiver applications from schools that want students in kindergarten through second grade back on campus, the LBUSD has repeatedly said it’s sticking to its own reopening timeline.

That decision came into stark relief this week when health officials on Monday approved the first reopening applications submitted by four schools: St. Maria Goretti School, Bethany Lutheran School, Los Altos Brethren/Los Altos Grace School, and Maple Village Waldorf School.

Soon, 21 different classes totaling 210 students will be back to class at the four campuses.

Two days after the schools won that right, Long Beach Unified School District officials were in a much different position: defending themselves against angry parents who showed up to a board meeting pushing for their students to be allowed into the classroom.

“I’m challenging you to be courageous and get kids back to school,” said Dan DeCarlo.

Parents talked about having kids experiencing anxiety and depression, including one parent, Laura Adams, who said she took her third grader out of the district after he began experiencing anxiety-induced tremors.

“I’m saddened for my students, I’ve never been more heartbroken,” she said. “Students feel the same…parents message me that their students are crying. My heart hurts for my students on a daily basis.”

The board members who addressed the comments spoke in opposition to the parents’ requests and defended the decision to remain in virtual learning.

“I am disheartened to hear from community members that we are picking out of convenience not to open up in the way that some community members feel that we should,” said board member Juan Benitez.

“I do understand the frustrations of the parents given the circumstances that we’re in and having to rebalance their lives,” said board member Felton Williams. “I know that has to be a crazy sort of situation that they’re experiencing…but it is unconscionable to me to even lose one student in this district to this pandemic. I want our staff to know that I support your efforts on behalf of our kids. I know you take a direct hit from parents on this but I want you to know that I support fully the steps you’re taking to protect our kids.”

Board member Megan Kerr pointed out that schools aren’t just kids, but adults as well.

“We don’t want to bring folks back and close,” said Kerr.

Board president Diana Craighead and others pointed out that the district has a plan for reopening schools on Jan. 28 posted on its website.

“We have a solid plan, all you have to do is look online,” she said. “People are accusing us of not doing our jobs because we aren’t making the decision they want us to make. Let’s all take a step back; let’s try and think of somebody else and not just ourselves…I hope that our staff feels supported, because we support you.”

Even for the kids going back to the private schools that are reopening, class will look much different.

All four schools have had to go through a detailed reopening application process that included demonstrating how they’d comply with social distancing and cleaning guidelines from the Health Department.

For one, students have to remain in cohorts of 12 students or less, with no interaction outside of those cohorts, per the guidelines. Distancing, mask wearing, and other guidelines will also have to be enforced, and a report must be made to the city’s Health Department if there are positive cases.

At St. Maria Goretti, the largest reopening with 69 students coming back on campus, the waiver application paints a picture of how different the days will be.

“Desks are facing one direction and six feet apart,” reads the application. “Students will engage in physical activity six feet apart, and they will not share equipment in their designated areas during recess and lunch. Teachers with the same lunch and recess will break each other until we hire a playground supervisor.”

Notably, the schools also had to demonstrate that they had the support of administrators, teachers, and parents to apply—a requirement that’s been deemed excessive and “divisive” by LBUSD board members.