The drive into work may be slower Monday morning, and the roads and sidewalks may be a bit more crowded, because the first day of school for thousands of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District has arrived.
LAUSD's new superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho started in February, but it's his first day back to school for his first full year with the school district, and he's just as excited as some of the students.
"I'm feeling a great deal of excitement and hope," he told NBCLA in an early Monday morning interview. "We're welcoming back 560,000 kids, 24,000 teachers and 73,000 employees. This is the equivalent of waking up the sleeping giant from its summer nap, LAUSD."
With so many students, in past years, the focus has been on class size, and whether each student would get the attention and help they needed. This year, the conversation has shifted to absenteeism and the hit the pandemic gave to the district.
"Fifty percent of our kids last year were chronically absent, missing in excess of 10% of instructional opportunity." Carvalho said. "That cannot be the case this year, particularly when we talk about brown and black kids, kids in poverty, English language learners, students with disabilities -- they lost so much ground. Now is the time to accelerate."
Carvalho said he has been talking to parents directly, convincing them to send their children back to school this year with assurances that their child will be safe from COVID-19.
In some ways, the district has relaxed protocols around the coronavirus pandemic.
Masks are no longer required in LAUSD schools, though they are still strongly recommended. Students also will not be required to complete weekly COVID tests to stay in class, nor will they be required to show their Daily Pass status or QR code to enter campus.
Furthermore, students who have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID can continue to attend class, as long as parents monitor their symptoms.
However, according to Carvalho, "[LAUSD schools] continue to be aligned with the County health department, as far as the health protocols. Actually, our standards are higher than the current CDC recommendations."
Acknowledging concerns about the relaxed precautions, he added that "health conditions have improved, 100% of our staff is vaccinated, 82% of our kids are vaccinated."
"We've deployed advanced technologies to filter the air, to renew and refresh the air. We ensure that the sanitization cycles are intensified, [and] we've distributed in excess of 2 million antigen tests."
All students must test for COVID-19 before the first day of school, Carvalho added, and the district will repeat the tests during the second week to get a sense of what health trends look like.
"We are safe, we are healthy, now is the time to teach our children."
As for who will teach those children, amid rumblings about a teacher shortage in the district, Carvalho assured parents that LAUSD acted in advance.
"There was a crisis across America, teachers are not paid, compensated or respected sufficiently. They are scapegoated too much," he said. "That's not the case in LA."
According to Carvalho, the district began the recruitment process for this school year before the previous year ended, and hired over 1500 teachers.
Alongside those assurances comes the offering of free breakfast, lunch and at least one snack during the school day -- a huge difference for many kids who may otherwise go hungry.
"Take it from someone who felt hungry until he was 17, a hungry belly is not helpful to the mind of a learner. That's why we feed every single kid a free breakfast, free lunch and a snack, no questions asked," Carvalho said.
The LAUSD menu also has some new food options, including vegan meals, high protein and low fat options.
And to get kids to and from the schools, the district also has a new fleet of electric buses.
The superintendent planned Monday morning to visit nine schools and a transportation yard for the district, before regrouping "to asses the first day, to ensure that the second day is even better."