Over the last week, the Long Beach Unified School District hosted in-person graduation ceremonies for each of its high schools, with approximately 5,280 students crossing the stage, according to district estimates, but those graduates aren’t the only ones going through a transition. The LBUSD and the city are also saying goodbye to a difficult 15 months of pandemic closures and looking forward to a, hopefully, brighter one ahead.

The last year saw the longest school closure in the district’s 130-year history, the installation of a new superintendent in Jill Baker, and a citywide scramble for a district with longheld traditions to do a lot of new things. The LBUSD shifted from in-person learning to “Zoom class,” with tens of thousands of laptops and mobile internet devices distributed.

Even as students returned to campus this spring, a huge portion of students remained at home. Teachers and families had to split their attention in ways they never had before, with some teachers running class simultaneously for students in class and on Zoom.

Leighton Mayoca works on her schoolwork while in her fourth-grade class as students return for the first day of in-person school at Alvarado Elementary School in Signal Hill Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The district’s 70,000 students and over 10,000 employees are hoping to leave those thoughts behind as the year closes, and signs continue to point to a full reopening in the Fall.

In her most recent community message, Baker said, “We believe that in-person instruction and the opportunity to provide wrap-around services to families can be best accomplished with students in our schools. It is for this reason that we will be pushing to have all students return to in-person instruction for full-day, full-program experiences.”

While there’s a widespread expectation within the district of the return to a “normal” school year, there are still unanswered questions about the fall.

Jill Baker, Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent, talks to the media on the first day of in-person school at Alvarado Elementary School in Signal Hill Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The LBUSD has aligned with CDC and California Department of Public Health guidelines for on-campus behavior, and the CDC hasn’t yet updated its guidelines around mask-wearing at schools, for one. That’s been the subject of quite a bit of social media chatter, and there may not be a concrete answer on that question in the short term.

Another flashpoint on Facebook in parent groups has been vaccines for students. The district has said it doesn’t plan to require students to have received a COVID-19 vaccine to return to campus, unless the state mandates that it does so.

Overall, It’s been a difficult year for everyone working in education. In her year-end messages, Baker thanked the school’s teachers and employees for their work navigating the school year, and the Teachers Association of Long Beach sent flyers to LBUSD parents thanking them for their help in educating kids while they were at home.

The hope that’s obvious everywhere is that this week’s goodbye to the 2020-21 school year will bring a goodbye to much of the year’s strife and that when classroom doors open again on Aug. 31, students and teachers will flood through them, fully together again.

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