Cries of ‘welcome back’ and ‘we missed you’ could be heard across Ronald Reagan Elementary school in Palm Desert.
It was an emotional day for Desert Sands Unified staff as they greeted students returning to campus for the first time in a year.
“I’m going to cry. I have missed the children’s laughter. I have walked around campus and I see the empty classrooms and I just get so emotional. Seeing the children here, seeing them excited, seeing the parents excited, we’re just so happy,” said Maria Wright, the assistant principal at Ronald Reagan Elementary.
To prepare for this day, DSUSD held a vaccination clinic for staff over the weekend, and several safety precautions were put in place.
“We have extra masks in the front, we have sanitizing stations, we have hand washing stations, the desks are placed six feet apart’
Currently, DSUSD is the only local district to begin hybrid instruction.
PSUSD plans to return on April 12, and CVUSD on April 19th, although CVUSD will discuss that date further at their next meeting.
“There’s nothing that compares to having the children here, seeing a teacher, interacting with their classmates,” said Wright.
The return to in-person education marks a significant milestone in the reopening process, and it arrives on the same day the county expands vaccine eligibility as well.
Now, residents between the ages 16 and 64 who have underlying conditions like cancer, kidney disease or obesity, as well as those with disabilities or who are pregnant are eligible.
“When you get to the vaccination site, you’re going to be asked if you fall under one of these categories, you don’t have to point out which category you fall under, you just have to be honest when you are asked that question by a screener that you are indeed some one on one of these categories,” said John Welsh, a public information officer for the Riverside University Health System.
Riverside University Health staff says they believe residents will follow the honor system.
“We depend on people’s honesty with everything we do here. We ask that people follow the guidelines because for the people who are eligible it’s been decided that they are the ones who should be prioritized,” Jose Arballo, Riverside University Health spokesperson.
Individuals who work in homeless shelters or behavioral health facilities also qualify under the new guideline.
Welsh says, as more people become eligible and schools reopen, the valley continues to head in the right direction.
“We are excited, this is a big day. A lot more people are going to be able to get the vaccine, and that helps us fight against this deadly virus,” said Welsh.