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Some Paso Robles students return for in-person learning

Angel Russell
Some students with disabilities returned Monday for in-person classes at Virginia Peterson Elementary.

In Paso Robles, some students with disabilities returned to campus Monday, and the school district is hoping to serve more students with in-person learning assistance this school year. 

At Virginia Peterson Elementary, students with disabilities and special needs were greeted by their Panda mascot, holding a 'welcome back' sign. 

“A couple of them jumped out of the car to get into the classroom,"said principal Maggie Tatman said. "We had one, who is wheelchair bound, who we wheeled to take a picture with the Panda, and he started crying because he thought he was leaving to get back in the car. They are really excited to be here.”

Tatman said parents are also relieved to have their kids get in-person assistance again. It’s been six months since these students have been inside an actual classroom. 

“This is the group that we really have concerns about having even more delays in their academic progress," Tatman said. "So this was the group that we really needed to target to make sure they were making the progress that they really need.”

Students are meeting in small groups anywhere from 90 minutes to four hours a day. Between groups, sanitizing and deep cleaning happens, school officials say. These students are getting one-on-one attention and socializing within groups to help with their education. 

“We know that they need very intensive services in order to learn,” said Terry Hollen, director of special education for the Paso Robles Unified School District.

Hollen said there are about 1,000 students with special needs within the district. Currently the district has 60 of those students attending in-person, and planning additional programs to help more.

“The individual services are so intensive," Hollen said. "They get so much interaction, so much stimulation, so much direct instruction for their academics, their life skills. It just can’t be duplicated outside the school.”

At this week’s school board meeting, district officials will consider applying for a state waiver allowing a phased return to classrooms for all the district’s elementary students. So far, no public schools within SLO County have applied for the waiver.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.