A fifth private elementary school in Long Beach has been given permission by the city’s health department to reopen for students in second grade and younger.

St. Joseph Catholic School, in East Long Beach, is about twice the size of the previous largest school the city had allowed to reopen. It joins St. Maria Goretti, Bethany Lutheran, Los Altos Brethren/Los Altos Grace, and Maple Village Waldorf in getting the OK to bring some students back on campus. All of the schools, except for Maple Village on Sixth Street, are in East Long Beach or Lakewood Village.

St. Joseph plans to serve 135 students in 14 classes, a big step up from St. Maria Goretti’s 69 students across six classes, which previously hosted the largest group of students allowed to return to class. Goretti and the other schools began opening this week with precautions such as masking, plastic dividers between students and a ban on shared toys or classroom supplies.

St. Joseph’s waiver was granted Wednesday afternoon, a week after it was submitted, and administrators there are planning to reopen early next week.

Like Goretti or any school that’s reopening locally, classes will look a lot different at St. Joseph, as outlined in its waiver application.

Heather Hernandez teaches her kindergarten class as they practice social distance at St. Maria Goretti in Long Beach Monday, October 26, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Class sizes will be smaller and distanced, and students will remain in cohorts with no mixing between groups. The waiver application is signed by the school’s entire teaching staff and includes an endorsement from a group of eight physicians who came together to form the St. Joseph Health Committee. The school is planning on resuming a full day of 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for its pre-K through second grade students, but it will alternate every other day for in-person attendance. The rest of the school’s older students will remain in virtual-learning mode.

According to the school’s application, 89% of parents surveyed at the school wanted their students to return to in-person classes.

As private schools in the city’s less densely populated areas continue to slowly reopen, the Long Beach Unified School District has not accelerated its plans to resume in-person classes for most students. It will keep learning online until at least Jan. 28, a stance that’s frustrated some parents as privates schools and nearby Los Alamitos Unified welcome back students.