"It feels really good to have kids coming back to school. We only have two cohorts of eight right now because we're trying to be very, very cautious about how we go about it," said Vanessa Flynn, the principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, one of three campuses allowing in person learning.
"It feels really good because we know that it means a lot to their families and to them and to their education. It's very small and very measured and very incremental, very cautious. We've done tons of preparation, in terms of our entire facility, making sure as you see that it's all marked in terms of where children stand, there's a one way. There's only one way to walk just like at the grocery store," she explained.
Some kids in Berkeley are headed back to in person learning- about 72 kids in total. pic.twitter.com/yk1fVIgiJl— Amy Hollyfield (@amyhollyfield) November 9, 2020
Flynn said they handpicked the students who returned Monday, but families had the option to continue learning at home.
"These students are the students who really need extra support accessing distance learning. And there may be different situations at home where there isn't the supervision that's needed or access to technology."
Relieved parents told stories of distance learning difficulties at home.
"He has been really struggling to stay focused. He has been doing his distance learning by himself and to have YouTube anytime he wants is a temptation that is hard to resist," explained Matt Ruby about his fifth-grader.
RELATED: Some experts, parents say benefits of in-person learning outweigh COVID-19 risk
"I'm a single parent so he would stay with my brother so I couldn't support him as much as other parents, it was hard," Alejandra Hernandez said about her third-grader.
Protestors were also part of this first day. A caucus of activists within the teacher union held signs warning of the dangers of COVID-19.
"It doesn't matter how many temperature checks you do, the virus is going to spread. And we just think it is unacceptable to force ESL learners and special ed back to school during a pandemic," said Hoku Jeffrey of the Equal Opportunity Now By Any Means Necessary caucus.
Parents worried the protest may scare the kids.
"I appreciate the right to free speech. Kids are having a hard enough time and then to see adults opposed to them coming back to school is a confusing message and it doesn't achieve much," Ruby said.
RELATED: Here's what Bay Area classrooms look like as they reopen during COVID-19
The Oakland Education Association also urged caution, pointing ABC7News to a statement made by president Keith Brown a month ago.
"We stand by our safety criteria. Any return to in-person instruction must be negotiated and will be brought to members for a ratification vote," said Brown.
Hernandez said she did not feel forced to send her son to school.
"He could have stayed home if he wanted but we wanted to see how this would play out. He was excited to see everybody. I knew it wasn't going to be big groups," she said.
The school district is aiming to return all elementary school students to a hybrid in-person learning plan in January. They do not have a date at this time for when middle and high school students will return.
However, don't expect many other East Bay districts to follow suit on a pre-January reopening any time soon.
VIDEO: Some Berkeley students return to classrooms, while other East Bay districts hold-off
Besides Berkeley, the only other district in Alameda County planning to offer at least some in-person classes before the end of the year is Piedmont Unified, which plans to offer a hybrid model starting the first week of December.
So far, 77 of 80 re-opening plans received by the Alameda County Office of Education have come from private or parochial schools.
"As a county, we don't have the authority to declare schools open and then each just opens the doors," explained Michelle Smith McDonald, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Office of Education. "Each district has to make a determination about their preparedness to open based on a number of factors, scope and scale, the size of their facilities, agreements with their labor partners."
Today in Berkeley, union activists greeted arriving families with signs warning of the dangers of re-opening amid the ongoing pandemic.
In short, most East Bay districts don't envision any return to in-person learning until January 2021, at the earliest.
If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here
RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:
- Map: CA counties that can, can't reopen under new rules
- COVID-19 risk calculator: The safest and most dangerous things to do this holiday season
- Updated number of COVID-19 deaths, cases in Bay Area
- COVID-19 Help: Comprehensive list of resources, information
- California EDD: The most commonly asked questions we get about unemployment and PUA
- Health experts urge flu shots in effort to avoid 'twindemic'
- How to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and coronavirus symptoms
- Here's which mask is better to protect from COVID-19
- First COVID-19 vaccine volunteers in US describe experience as Bay Area launches vaccine trials
- From salons to dinner parties: Experts rate the risk of 12 activities
- Coronavirus origin: Where did COVID-19 come from?
- What is a COVID-19 genetic, antigen and antibody test?
- What will it take to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how will it be made?
- What does COVID-19 do to your body and why does it spread so easily?
- Here's how shelter in place, stay at home orders can slow spread of COVID-19
- Coronavirus Timeline: Tracking major moments of COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco Bay Area
- COVID-19 Diaries: Personal stories of Bay Area residents during novel coronavirus pandemic
- Coronavirus Doctor's Note: Dr. Alok Patel gives his insight into COVID-19 pandemic