CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Students and staff in the Sweetwater Union High School District returned to the classroom Wednesday for the first day of school.

It marks the end of the summer in the year-round district for some 36,000 students in grades 7-12. Also returning Wednesday in the South Bay was the Chula Vista Elementary School District, which serves transitional kindergarten students up to sixth graders.

At Chula Vista High School, Principal Julio Alcala said the staff is “super excited” to welcome students back.

“It was a short break for us because we are year-round, but we love our students and we’re welcoming them back with open arms,” Alcala said.

Starting July 14, the district “strongly recommended” students and staff vaccinated against COVID-19 wear a face mask indoors. They are being required indoors at Sweetwater Union for unvaccinated staff and adult visitors in a policy set to be reexamined 30 school days after the start of the year.

District parents also are encouraged to test their children for COVID before sending them back to school.

They are one of several districts reinstituting mask policies as San Diego County was bumped up into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high” category in its evaluations of community COVID levels. Masks now are mandated in the San Diego Unified School District, which tied its decision to the CDC’s community-level monitoring system.

That ruling could be reevaluated as soon as next week, San Diego Unified officials said.

Alcala said Sweetwater Union started having conversations about the mask policy prior to the county’s move into the higher CDC level “because we know things change with COVID.”

“It’s not going away,” he said. “The conversations started and we ultimately made that decision last week in cabinet. We communicated with our parents to let them know what’s going on.”

Another new feature this year at Sweetwater Union is the new start time for students. A new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom goes into effect this month, which establishes new mandatory start times for middle and high schools.

All Sweetwater Union high schools now begin class at 8:30 a.m. while middle schools start at 8 a.m.

“It’s new for us, so we’re going to start today,” Alcala said. “It’s the first day we’re going to start with an 8:30 start time. We have been communicating with families since last year.”

For students with parents who work earlier than the start of the school day, Alcala said they have a before-school program available starting at 7:15 a.m.

“It gives them an opportunity to be here a little bit earlier and be in a safe space before they start their classes,” he said.

The district’s school year ends June 2, 2023. See the full district calendar by clicking or tapping here.