Back-to-School Photo Album: Amid Delta Surge, a Surreal Return to Campus For Students Across America

By Meghan Gallagher | August 26, 2021

By Meghan GallagherAugust 26, 2021

Now 18 months into the pandemic, students are arriving to schools for yet another academic year like no other, with students under 12 remaining unvaccinated and the Delta variant driving up infection rates around the globe. 

At some campuses, it’s the end of a long silence, with students eager to socialize, reconnect with teachers and resume in-person learning.  

Scanning photos from the past month, between the familiar sights of dropoffs, new backpacks and community reunions were jarring reminders that this new school year is far from normal. First-day photos revealed vaccination events, chaotic health screenings, emotional send-offs, doctors at “meet and greets” and protesters convening close to campuses. Parents posted back to school photos, but captions were often tinged with concern. One parent’s update shared how her son bonded with a peer over nervous parents — that he found someone “who also has an overprotective mom who cares about Covid.”

Below, some of the more memorable photos we found, of what it’s like to return to school in the fall of 2021:

Parents watch their students from a distance on the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, on Aug. 16. (Paul Bersebach / Getty Images)
Parents wave good-bye to their kindergarteners during the first day of class at Laguna Niguel Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, California, on Aug. 17. (Paul Bersebach / Getty Images)
A 17-year-old receives a first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic during the back to school event at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on Aug. 7. (Patrick T. Fallon / Getty Images)
Los Angeles first-grader Daniel Cano listens to Principal Josefina Flores discuss COVID-19 safety precautions during an L.A. Unified “meet and greet” with medical advisors who answered questions and presented safety preparations at Euclid Avenue Elementary School Monday on July 26. (Allen J. Schaben / Getty Images)
A sign at the entrance to a charter school in Los Angeles advises that masks are required to enter, Aug. 11. (Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
Protesters rallied outside of Hewes Middle School in Tustin, California, on Aug. 13, a day after a student refused to wear a face mask on the first day of school and was sent to wait outside the school’s front office. (Orange County Register / Getty Images)
Kindergarteners wear their masks during recess on the first day of school at Montara Avenue Elementary School Monday, in South Gate, California, on Aug. 16. (Getty Images)
Normont Early Education Center student Adalyn washes her hands as School Board Members and special guests celebrate the first day of in class instruction on Aug. 16. It will be many of the young students’ first time in a classroom. (Al Seib / Getty Images)
Students are tested for COVID during a testing day in response to rising numbers of positive tests in students and faculty at Brandeis Elementary School on Aug. 17 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry / Getty Images)
Dr. Smita Malhotra, left, medical director, and Dr. Rosina Franco, middle, listen to Josefina Flores, right, Euclid Avenue Elementary School principal, speak in a classroom at a L.A. Unified “meet and greet.” (Allen J. Schaben / Getty Images)
LAUSD Kindergartner Rylee Doan gets in a last hug with her mother Tiffany Doan-Evans at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood as they wait in line to have their Daily Pass scanned before entering campus. (Getty Images)
A masked school mascot greets students as they arrive on the first day of class at Baldwin Park Elementary School in Orange County, Florida. (Paul Hennessy / Getty Images)
Students and parents arrive masked for the first day of the school year at Grant Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 16. (Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
A parent adjusts her son’s face covering as they wait to enter Grant Elementary. (Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
Issues with the new “Daily Pass” health check app caused confusion and long lines on the first day back to school at Grant Elementary School. (Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
Students and parents waiting to enter Grant Elementary. (Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
(Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
Chanel Campbell kisses her daughter as she drops her off on her first day back at Normont Elementary in Harbor City on Aug. 16. (Brittany Murray / Getty Images)
Principal Nathan Hay checks students’ temperatures as they arrive on the first day at Baldwin Park Elementary School. Due to the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Orange County public schools have implemented a face mask mandate for students for 30 days unless a parent chooses to opt out of the requirement. (Paul Hennessy / Getty Images)
Parents watch their students head to class on the first day of instruction at Roosevelt Elementary School in Anaheim, California, on Aug. 12. (Orange County Register / Getty Images)
Teachers welcome students back during the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, on Aug. 16. Students and teachers were required to wear masks in the classroom but not outside. (Paul Bersebach / Getty Images)
(Robyn Beck / Getty Images)
A student is greeted by her teacher from a previous year, Brittney Crawford, during the first day of school at Tustin Ranch Elementary School. (Orange County Register / Getty Images)
A teacher hugs three of her students from last year on the first day of class at Laguna Niguel Elementary School, in California, on Aug. 17. (Paul Bersebach / Getty Images)
A student hurries back to her first grade classroom during the first day of class at Stanford Elementary School in Garden Grove, California, on Aug. 16. (Paul Bersebach / Getty Images)
A fifth-grader takes a rapid COVID-19 test, which will be done weekly, on the first day of school at Los Angeles Unified School District at Montara Avenue Elementary School, on Aug. 16. (Getty Images)
Students Vivian Dunaway and Deward Cummings introduce themselves during Niketa Knights fourth grade class at Stratford Landing Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday, Aug. 23, the first day back to school for many districts in northern Virginia. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Getty Images)
Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly, board members and special guests celebrate the first day of instruction on Aug. 16, welcoming students, teachers, principals, school site employees and families, while visiting special programs and classrooms at each site. (Allen J. Schaben / Getty Images)
A masked, half full classroom on the first day of school at the Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami, on Aug. 23. (Chandan Khanna / Getty Images)
A bustling hallway at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Aug. 17. (Hyoung Chang / Getty Images)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom visits Carl B. Munck Elementary School, Wednesday, Aug. 11, in Oakland, California. The governor announced that California will require its 320,000 teachers and school employees to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. (Santiago Mejia / Getty Images)
South El Monte High School cheerleaders masked up during a ceremony to introduce the fleet of 11 new electric school buses, a part of the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) $9.8 million Clean Mobility in Schools grant to the school district to help achieve California’s ecological conservation goals and promote clean transportation among students, educators and their families. (Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)
Students arrive for their first day in school at the Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami, on Aug. 23. (Chandan Khanna / Getty Images)

Lead Image: Orange County Register / Getty Images