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St. Helena schools begin classes Aug. 11

St. Helena Primary School playground

St. Helena Primary School kids explore the school's new playground in October 2019.

Students returning to the St. Helena Unified School District next Wednesday will find full classrooms, a new principal, a new athletic director, and mandatory masking indoors — but not outdoors.

Requiring masks indoors only is consistent with updated guidelines issued in July by the California Department of Public Health, which recommended making outdoor mask-wearing optional. During the last school year, masks were required indoors and outdoors except when eating.

Superintendent Marylou Wilson said the district encourages staff and students 12 and over to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but it can’t require vaccination.

The district is asking employees and students at the middle and high schools to provide verification of vaccination status to help with contact tracing, if necessary.

“If a child is exposed (to COVID-19) and they have their mask on and they’ve been vaccinated, they don’t have to stay home,” Wilson said. “So there’s a huge incentive for our middle-schoolers and high-schoolers who are 12-plus to prove vaccination.”

Wilson estimated that close to 95% of the district staff has been vaccinated.

The district’s remote learning program has been replaced with an optional Independent Study program through the Napa Valley Unified School District, which is offering the program to all of the Upvalley school districts. Parents who want their kids to continue with distance learning should fill out an online survey by 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9.

Leading up to the first day of school on Wednesday, the district will hold a teacher prep day on Monday and an internal opening ceremony to welcome new staff members on Tuesday, followed by staff development and more teacher work time.

The district’s leadership team is the same with two exceptions: Brandon Farrell is the new athletic director, replacing Tom Hoppe, who retired. Rebekah Rocha is the new principal at St. Helena Primary School, replacing Tamara Sanguinetti, who also retired.

Check out highlights from the St. Helena High School graduation. Congratulations to the Class of 2021.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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