Youngest students at Dublin Unified head to class in person; questions about the fall remain

The youngest students in another East Bay school district went back to school in person on Thursday.

A few hundred developmental-kindergarten and kindergarten students in the Dublin Unified School District walked into their classrooms with happy smiles on under their masks.

For many of them, it was the first time they'd ever been to their elementary school campus.

"It's been a long year," said Mark Gard, a parent of a Dublin Elementary Kindergarten student. "Here we are, towards the end of March and he hasn't been on campus, yet. So it's exciting to get back to some level of normalcy."

Under a hybrid schedule, kindergarteners will receive two hours of in-person instruction, four days a week.

On Monday, 1st through 3rd graders will return to class under the same hybrid schedule, and 4th and 5th grades will return by the end of next week.

"In many cases, teachers have yet to meet their students face-to-face," said Dublin Unified Superintendent Daniel R. Moirao. "The social-emotional part of school is a critical part, and it wasn't until that was taken away from us that we realized just how significantly important that is."

Dublin Mayor Melissa Hernandez came to the Dublin Elementary campus to greet students and staff after a year of distance learning.

"I do have a daughter who's a junior in high school," Hernandez said. "She's excited to get back to some sort of normalcy."

The target date to reopen 6th-12th grades is March 29, but Moirao said the district is still figuring out the final schedule. He said part of the challenge is a state rule that requires 4-6 feet of space between students in classrooms.

"Our classrooms aren't that big. It limits how many students we can have at one time. That's part of the puzzle, too," said Moirao.

California Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond spoke about the challenges of bringing secondary school students back to public school campuses across the state.

A recent study of Massachusetts Public Schools showed no difference in outcomes when students, wearing masks, were spaced 3-feet apart instead of six.

"I believe, we're going to see in the very near future, some changes in what the CDC might recommend, based on new research made available in the last few weeks," Thurmond said.

Moirao said there are still questions about the fall schedule, and whether they'll be able to open, full-time.

"It'll be still hybrid because I'm not sure what restrictions will be from our county health department at that time," he said. 

Moirao said the district hopes "at least 3/4ths of our student body will back on campus" and that the district will try to expand in-person hours, but that hybrid, not full-time, is the plan for the fall right now. Dublin Unified has 13,000 students.

"We're still being told, anticipate opening with a hybrid model," said Moirao.

Distance learning will likely still be an option for families in the fall. 

District families right now have the option to stick with distance learning for the remainder of this academic year.

Approximately 53% of families chose that option.