When schools shuttered in March, David Miyashiro, the superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District, immediately started connecting with families and teachers. During hundreds of calls, Zoom meetings and socially distanced in-person gatherings, he heard desperate pleas from poor parents torn between work and home instruction, or who needed support for high-needs students.

Mr. Miyashiro vowed to reopen schools in the fall, and over the coming months, he took steps to pave the way. The district near San Diego offered free emergency child care for essential workers in April. It ran an in-person summer enrichment program for more than a third of its 17,000 mostly low-income students, road-testing safety measures. One cohort of students had to quarantine for 14 days after a parent informed the school she had tested positive for the coronavirus, but no student or teacher cases materialized.

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