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As the school year approaches, parents crave return to normalcy but remain anxious

Distance learning during the last school year was hard on mother Trinidad Perez and her two girls, who will be entering preschool and kindergarten at Beardsley Elementary. 

After spending so much time at home with her mother, her older daughter developed separation anxiety, Perez said. She would have panic attacks whenever her mom left. Those panic attacks began to subside in spring when she started to spend more time at school when campus reopened. But her daughter hated the days she was learning on her laptop.

As the beginning of the school year approaches, Perez is looking forward to having her daughters back for a full day. However, as COVID-19 rates rise, she can't help but worry that school campuses may head toward another shutdown.

"I'm scared they're going to close down again," she said.

Her daughters were too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but she said she would get them one to protect them if she could. 

Many Kern County parents, who were tired of distance learning or hybrid learning, are expressing relief that school will finally look like it did in years past. The bell schedule will return to normal, buses will run for everyone and meal time has returned. But for some, that relief is tempered by anxiety about COVID-19, whether over the virus itself or fear that its spread could send students back to learning at home.

Martha Ruiz called the virus "scary." She's worried about its health effects but also the way the pandemic has affected her daughter, who will be a kindergartner at Seibert.

Over the summer, she took her to Universal Studios. After a few hours, her daughter was ready to head home to play on her electronics. Ruiz is concerned she spent too much time on a computer last year, and she's glad that she'll be on a school campus where she can socialize in a healthy way.

Alyssa Sparks has high hopes for the school year where life is returning to normal. She's a new homeowner, she's going to start the welding program at Bakersfield College and her son will be back in a classroom.

Her son Jaxx Davis will be a seventh grade student at Beardsley Junior High, and that's a relief for both of them. Davis liked his teacher, but he admits he didn't learn much last year.

"I'm glad to have the normal back," said Sparks.

Vocal groups of community members, including parents, showed up at the board meetings last week at Rosedale Union, Panama-Buena Vista Union School District and Norris protesting the state requirement that students wear masks.

Other parents supported the requirement as a safety measure that would help keep students safe and schools open.

Kylisha Coulter, the mother of a kindergartner heading to Noble Elementary, said she felt safe as long as everyone was wearing masks. She was glad safety measures were in place, because she felt her son needed hands-on learning.

"I'm just so ready for them to go back," she said.

Alexander Diaz, a seventh grader heading to Greenfield Middle School, was vaccinated a month ago. But his mother Lorena Garcia said she still worries about her children heading back to school, because students are going to start gathering together more just as cases are rising.

"That's why you have to keep your mask on," Garcia reminds him in Spanish.

During spring, Garcia's children returned to school for hybrid learning when case rates were falling. But this year is worrisome.

"We, as parents, are worried about our children getting sick," Garcia added in Spanish.

Darlene Ramirez, whose children are attending Ollivier Middle School and Valle Verde, said she was "super nervous" about school starting. Last year her father had a serious case of COVID and her father was intubated. She worries her children could bring COVID back to him again.

"He has a weak immune system, and we're with him a lot," she said.

Under state law, schools are required to offer an independent study option this year. But a week out from the start of school, Ramirez said she didn't feel like she had a good handle on what the option would look like, though she was giving it serious consideration. She worried it would look the paper packets handed out in the early days of the pandemic.

"They need to have a teacher, not just packets," she said.

Perhaps the least anxious about school was Ranjit Singh. His seventh grade son Gabriel was born with an immune deficiency, so his parents made the decision to keep him in independent study.

"We want to go back in badly," Singh said. 

But he sounded happy with the decision his family had made. Through independent study, Gabriel can still attend some parts of the normal school experience at Thompson Junior High in person if he opts to.