Virginia Stewart said it had been a long time since she saw students walking through the halls of the Tracy Learning Center.
After nearly seven months students returned to the campus as the Primary Charter School reopened on Monday, bringing bring back nearly half of their kindergarten through fourth grade classes under a waiver issued by the San Joaquin County Public Health Service.
Stewart, executive director of the Tracy Learning Center at 51 E. Beverly Place, said the school had applied for the waiver on Sept 18. before San Joaquin County had moved into the “substantial” red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
“We were very pleased with the waiver process. We put in our request, we had a note from Dr. Park asking us to explain one little piece, and the process came through in time to be able to set it up,” Stewart said.
The school had 158 students, about 45% of the Primary Charter, return for full-day, in-person classes.
“I think our unique part about what we’re doing today and for the next month is we brought them back for their full day, their full day with electives, P.E., with everything,” Stewart said.
Students in the Discovery Charter and Millennium High are continuing for the moment with distance learning.
“We saw that we were able to apply for a waiver and we felt comfortable doing that. We expected it to be that we would have two days with one group of children and two days with another group of children but our parent survey was so good in helping us understand that 50% or so wanted to stay in distance learning and 50% wanted to return and we were able to come up with a plan that allowed us to make everyone happy, which doesn’t happen very often,’ Stewart said.
The Learning Center had planned for about 50% of the students to return and with three teachers in each classroom they could decide which teachers would be in the classrooms for in-person and who would continue teaching distance learning.
The campus opened with strict safety measures in place including mandatory temperature checks for staff and students as they arrive at the campus. Parents and any sibling are required to wear masks in their car as they pull in to drop off their student.
“It’s really important when you’re making a decision to open you want to be as safe as possible,” Stewart said.
After their temperature check students head to a hand sanitizer station before they can enter the school grounds.
Facemask or face shields are required for every student and staff member.
“We keep reminding everyone, wear your mask because we believe the mask is really the most essential piece,” Stewart said.
Teachers had arranged the rooms to keep what Stewart described as a “healthy distance” between students.
Students in physical education classes have lanyards to hang facemasks and spacing between students.
Students travelling from a classroom to a physical education class carry a long tape to keep their spacing between each other as they walk.
George Hepner, facilities director at Tracy Learning Center, said they have taken steps to make the campus as safe as possible, adding several cleaning products including the germ Buster Pro, a battery operated disinfector.
“We can go in and fog rooms, tables, chairs, shelves — everything in the room — walls doors and it’s a no rinse disinfectant so it really speeds up the process of disinfecting the rooms, Hepner said. “It’s just a lot of manpower to do that so we’re hoping that speeds that process up.”
Hepner said he has been working since April to get supplies which can be challenging at times.
Hand sanitizer dispensers are in each classroom, hallways and near lunch tables and walkways. A row of the stations wait in the school’s gymnasium to be placed in classroom buildings.
“The demand and how things are routed and pricing of everything has gone through the roof so it’s kind of challenging to try and get the proper supplies,” Hepner said. “I have orders from May that I haven’t gotten back yet.”
Among the other safety measures taken was to reduce the number of visitors to the campus. The school isn’t using parent volunteers and visitors are kept to a minimum and must wear a facemask on campus.
Parents aren’t allowed to walk their children to class and must remain in their cars during drop off and pick-up times. Student arrival was widened to allow them to come between 8 and 8:30 a.m. to avoid a crowd and allow for time for temperature checks.
Stewart said opening the campus up with a smaller number of students will let them work out any problems quickly.
“We’re really, really fortunate that when we first started thinking hybrid we thought everybody was going to be here. Then when the survey showed up the way it did it was like wow, we misunderstood this and it really worked better this way,” Stewart said.
The school had been planning to reopen in August with a hybrid plan, having students split between two day in person and two days online, until a surge in coronavirus cases put a damper on the plans as schools across the county were ordered to reopen with distance learning.
“Safety is our main concern for staff and our students. I mean if we don’t have that confidence for them we’re fighting a battle.” Hepner said. “We’re taking every step we can, we’re taking it serious and doing everything we can to minimize risks to any staff and students.”
If the county remains in the red tier the Learning Center is planning to phase the rest of their students back into in-person education.
The rest of the Primary Charter will rejoin their classmates starting the week of Nov. 2.
All of Discovery Charter School will head back to the campus starting the week of Nov. 9 and Millennium High will join them the week after on Nov. 16.
The smaller size gave the school some advantages over much larger school districts.
“We can move the battleship a little sooner, a little faster around the corners. We just have to make sure we have everything ready,” Stewart said. “We’ll get better at this, that’s why we wanted time to see what this was like and if there was something we forgot and as we go toward the more challenging schools I think we’ll have a better sense of what we need to be aware of.”
• Contact Glenn Moore at email@example.com, or call 209-830-4252.