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During the first week of in-person learning at Panorama High School, drama teacher Patricia Francisco stood in the mini-theater talking on Zoom to her acting class. Two stage lights brightened her face as she spoke to her camera. Students were logging in from home, or from classrooms scatteredaround campus. Most appeared as black boxes on her screen.

“You guys who are on campus — I’m so proud of you for being here,” she said. “Those of you who are at home — we can succeed in any environment that we are ending up in.”

Except for her voice, the room was silent. Only three students were physically in the class — and they weren’t paying attention to her as they attended other online classes while wearing noise-canceling headphones. Returning to school in Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, means sitting in one classroom all day, two or three days a week, with little intermingling or movement.

This “Zoom in a room” option for in-person schooling — the format for high school in Los Angeles and San Francisco — has failed to draw back the vast majority of students. Although official attendance data have not yet been released, a survey of L.A. Unified parents indicated that about 17% of high school students would come back to campus.

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