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EL CAJON, Calif. – Monday marked the first day of school for students and staff in the Grossmont Union High School District.

Grossmont Union High School District Superintendent Theresa Kemper on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

The district, like many others in California, reopened entirely online this week because of guidelines for counties unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month. Students return to classes in a distance learning format, the first of five levels mapped out by district leaders in a process they hope leads to students returning to campuses sometime in the future.

At El Cajon Valley High School, sophomores were showing up to school Monday to pick up any supplies they might need for distance learning, Superintendent Theresa Kemper said.

“It’s an amazing start, the first time students come back and don’t go into the classroom,” Superintendent Theresa Kemper said Monday, adding that it’s “disappointing” not to be able to bring students back to campus as classes resume.

A modified quarter system has been implemented by the district this year based on feedback from the school’s online sessions in the spring. In the new format, students will take between five to seven classes in the year including between two and four classes per quarter, the district’s website shows.

The first quarter began Monday and runs through Oct. 9.

As Grossmont Union advances from the first level on, some students gradually will return to campus at least part-time with smaller-than-usual class sizes to accommodate social distancing guidelines. In the district’s Level 2, for example, students would be on campus once a week while doing distance learning the other four weekdays. Only about 25% of students will be on campus at a time.

“It ramps up to 25% of the students back, 50%, 75% until gradually they’re all back,” Kemper said. “Our goal is to get them all back on campus.”

Grossmont Union also has implemented a series of new health and safety protocols, including requiring families, students and staff self-screen for symptoms at home and wear face coverings; conducting temperature checks at school entry points; and suspending drinking fountain use.

Other districts in the area also are scheduled to begin the year virtually in the coming weeks and months, including the Poway Unified School District, which has vowed to continue distance learning through the end of the year.