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Amid COVID-19 Safety Concerns, Some Central, South Coast School Districts Kick Off New School Year

The new school year is underway at Ojai's Nordhoff High School, with COVID-19 safety precuations like masking in place.

Ojai Unifed School District began new school year Wednesday.

Class is in session at Ojai’s Nordhoff High School. In one of the classrooms, math teacher Shawn Jackson has divided his students up into small groups, as they work on math problems.

Jackson said it’s exciting to be back with students at school.

"Oh, it's just nice to see some faces, at least the top half of the faces, and you can tell they're smiling, and good moods all around," said Jackson. "The kids are doing a really good job of keeping their masks on."

After a pandemic shutdown and months of remote learning, the Ojai Unified School District’s schools reopened last spring. The nine campuses kicked off their new school year Wednesday.

District Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Morse said they are watching the latest surge closely, but are taking steps to keep everyone safe. She said it’s critical to have kids back in classrooms.

"We're worried," said Morse. "I really live and breath this. We are very concerned about what's happening, but kids need to be back at school."

With the COVID-19 vaccine still not available to those under 12, Morse said one of the biggest safety steps the district is taking is limiting visitors to elementary schools campuses. Parents were allowed to walk their kids to class for the first day of class, but for now, visitation is being limited.

As you walk around the Nordhoff High School campus at lunchtime, you see many students reconnecting for the first time in months. No one has to tell them to wear masks. They’re just doing it. Students said being back on campus is a huge relief.

Tayten Neiderheiser is a Nordoff High School Junior.

"Online is really hard," said Neiderheiser. "Teachers did the best they could, but it was just not the same."

She's excited be back on campus for school.

Nordhoff High School Principal Dave Monson said it's amazing to have kids back at school. "We've been waiting for this for 18 months," said Monson.

Before the first day of school, the campus hosted vaccination clinics, and is planning to make on-camping testing available for staff and students.

Members of Nordhoff’s senior class are especially excited about the new school year. COVID-19 or not, they are hoping to make their last year of high school as normal as possible.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.