Majority of San Jose students continue distance learning as others return to classrooms

Wednesday marked a return to the classroom for some families in the South Bay's largest school district for the first time in more than a year.

But the majority of students remain at home.

According to the San Jose Unified School District, about 35% of families chose to have students come back with 65% opting to continue with distance learning for the final six weeks of school.

"I feel like it's August. It's that first day of school and I can't wait until they can all come back to class and be on campus," said Herbert Hoover Middle School teacher Denisha Connet.

At Schallenberger Elementary School in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood, it was the first time ever kindergartener Haley Martin walk into school instead of logging in.

"It was really fun," said Martin. "I got to see half my class."

Mother Melissa Martin said she was delighted to drop her daughter off.

"It was so great to see her meet her friends in-person..and just to get the sense of what school is really like and to be back on-campus. It's fantastic," said Melissa Martin.

Greeted with welcome signs and sanitizing stations, about 10,000 San Jose Unified students returned to their classrooms on this Wednesday in April, for the first time since March 2020.

"We talked about how it's been over 400 days since they've actually been on-campus," said Connet.

Connet teaches social studies at Herbert Hoover, where she has placed a stuffed doll, a life-size skeleton, and a Giants fans cut-out featuring a picture of her in the front row to help enforce social distancing.

"I'm really excited to see my kids. I got to meet some of them for the first time," said Connet.

Only about a third of San Jose Unified families chose to return to in-person instruction for five full days of classroom instruction.

The rest, about 18,000 students, chose to stay in distance learning.

Teachers are now teaching to both groups simultaneously, which Connet says has been the biggest adjustment.

"Parents, please be patient with us as we're trying to deal with in-person as well as virtual," said Connet.

The district says Willow Glen schools have some of the highest rates of students coming back, while those in downtown San Jose have the lowest rates of students returning to the classrooms.

And some students are continuing online from across the country or even from Mexico.

"In some cases, we know we have students that no longer live in the Bay Area but because we've been doing distance learning, they've stayed enrolled in the school. So we expect to see them drop for next year's enrollment," said San Jose Unified spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox.

As for concerns about the new school day being equitable for those in-person and at home, Maddox says the district's expectation is all students will have the same support and attention. But she says it will take a few days to transition to the new model.