‘Que locura’ — This is madness. First day of school stresses out parents, students

School officials wave to students and parents waiting in line to enter an elementary school.
Los Angeles Unified interim Supt. Megan Reilly, second from left, and school board members wave to students and parents waiting to enter Normont Elementary in Harbor City.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The lines to enter South Gate’s South East High School and South East Middle School at 9 a.m. Monday were each about 200 students deep.

Kony Aguillon sat in the shade while her son, an eighth-grader, waited for his health clearance. She had done everything right Sunday night, prechecking the district’s Daily Pass website so it would be smooth going the next morning. But on Monday, the system wouldn’t load. They arrived at school early, around 7:50 a.m., to check in, and an hour later, there they stood.

Que locura,” she said. This is madness.

“I imagined it was going to be crazy,” she added, but not as bad as it was. Still, she said, she would have patience. It was only the first day, and this new set of safety protocols is going to take some adjustment.

Opening day at the nation’s second-largest school district unfolded with a mix of emotions: frustration over long waits and technological troubles, anxiety over health protocols and concern for how things would go for children who have been learning online for a year and a half. But for many, the sense of joy and relief at being together again eased the woes.

Soon enough, though, problems accessing the district’s online daily health pass began to surface — leading to long lines and missed class time. Teachers and school staff rushed to find quick fixes.

In the early morning at John Marshall High in Los Feliz, lines of students waiting to enter extended two blocks. By 9 a.m., some students were still waiting, having missed part of the first class.

Gary Garcia, the principal, found a workaround for Tuesday in case the app is still slow to respond. He’s asking students to take screenshots of their pass prior to arriving on campus; that way if it’s difficult to access in the morning, they can show proof of their health check-in.


In anticipation of delays, he had already extended the first period of classes by about 18 minutes in hopes that all students could meet their teachers.

Throughout the morning, he fielded questions from parents worried that their kids couldn’t get into school, and welcomed students back.

“I’ve seen students cooperating with the masks, and I’m feeling confident that we’re going to be OK,” said Garcia, who has been a principal for 15 years.

Teachers and parents also expressed optimism.

“It’s exciting; it’s scary,” said Nohemi Sanchez-Heredia, who teaches first grade at Normont Elementary in Harbor City. “I’m excited for the children, and I’m excited for myself, actually, to be back, to be able to help these little guys face to face again. Just like the good old days.”

At her school, the organized chaos of the first day felt not that far from normal, even though safety protocols resulted in a line of more than 150 students and parents waiting patiently to be checked in.

Principal Kim Sheehan said that about 95% of her 295 students had taken the required baseline coronavirus test that would allow them to return to campus.

“We had done a pretty robust outreach program, and we were even still making calls to remind parents yesterday that they could still go to Gardena High School yesterday and get their tests,” Sheehan said. “Thank goodness we didn’t have anybody come on campus that was disallowed.”


The entry station was equipped with hand sanitizer, surgical masks and a book for each student: “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud.

“It’s a book about kindness and giving more than you take,” Sheehan said.

Also on hand for the first day were three school board members and Los Angeles Unified interim Supt. Megan Reilly, who read the McCloud book to 10 first-graders in Sanchez-Heredia’s classroom. Other students in the class were still waiting to get through the screening process.

Sanchez-Heredia has been vaccinated, so she feels safe, but she worries about her students.

“I feel protected,” she said. “My little guys, I just feel that I don’t want them to get sick. I just wake up every morning thinking positive and hope for the best.”

Students and parents wait in line to enter Normont Elementary School in Harbor City on the first day of school.
Students and parents wait in line to enter Normont Elementary School in Harbor City.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Henriette Jeter was at the school with her daughters, who are starting kindergarten, second and fifth grades. All three wore light-blue T-shirts with sequined stars, plus tie-dyed masks.

“We’re very excited to start school and start learning and being with other kids,” Jeter said.

Her children had been learning remotely at a private religious school for much of last year before she decided to home-school them.

Even though the Delta variant worries her, she felt her kids needed to be back in a classroom.


“They needed to get their energy out and be able to learn and be with other kids,” she said.

She put hand sanitizer and Lysol spray in the kids’ backpacks. In the car on the way to school, she reminded them not to share food with their friends.

“But I can’t stay at home in fear,” she said. “I just have to do the best that I can with the girls to make sure that they are doing their due diligence to stay clean and stay away from people and not share food.”

At Cleveland Charter High in Reseda, Tony Saavedra polled his American literature honor students on their feelings about being back on campus and projected the results on a large screen.

The most common emotions were in the largest type: “nervous” and “excited.” In smaller type were “stressed,” “happy,” “tired” and “scared.”

Two-thirds of the class felt excited to be back, Saavedra said.

“I was also feeling very mixed in terms of coming to school today, but to be live in front of students like this — there’s nothing like that feeling,” he said.


Times staff writers Howard Blume and Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.