Convinced of the scholastic, social and spiritual superiority of in-person instruction, Catholic schools in the San Francisco Archdiocese have been doing extra homework to get students safely back in the classroom.

With COVID-19 protections in place, the core curriculum remains the sole survivor of the pre-pandemic campus experience that ended abruptly a year ago.

The new normal entails face masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, temperature checks, viral tests, distanced desks, plexiglass enclosures, plastic shields, staggered schedules, split classes, spread-out lunch seats, coned-off play areas, repurposed spaces, hybrid teaching, reimagined digital tools, drive-through drop-offs and pick-ups.

Visitors, volunteers, field trips, classroom rotations number among new prohibitions in school-specific plans that had to pass muster with public health and archdiocesan officials prior to the incremental comeback that began last fall.

“We can’t expect children to learn sitting in front of a screen for hours,” said Lydia Collins, principal of St. Raphael School in San Rafael. “Children need social interaction for their emotional well-being; our children have suffered by being forced to learn in the isolation of their homes.” The school, where a mere 6% of students have opted to remain distance learners, began the phased-in return Sept. 22, 2020.

Initial fears of widespread infections failed to materialize. In Marin County, where all seven Catholic and 105 of 109 other schools have reopened, government figures showed only 11 cases of suspected in-school coronavirus transmission as of March 14, 2021 when the number of days any student attends class in person totaled 1,376,430.

A Catholic San Francisco survey of 32 principals, pastors, parents, pupils and teachers at eight schools in the three counties served by the archdiocese found an overwhelming preference for on-site education and appreciation for those who make it possible. “Catholic schools believe there is no substitute for in-person learning, and our work serving children, especially poor and minority children, cannot be placed in limbo during the pandemic,” said Kimberly Orendorff, principal of St. Anselm School in San Anselmo, which started welcoming back students in August 2020. “Catholic school teachers are among the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.