Elizabeth Panagos kisses her son, Paxton, through her mask as she drops him off for his first day of kindergarten at Mountain Way Elementary in Granite Falls on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Elizabeth Panagos kisses her son, Paxton, through her mask as she drops him off for his first day of kindergarten at Mountain Way Elementary in Granite Falls on Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Masks on, at a distance, students begin a new year of school

Nervous and excited students filtered back into classrooms full-time in five districts in Snohomish County.

GRANITE FALLS — A pretty normal scene unfolded Wednesday at Mountain View Elementary as a new school year began in the Granite Falls district.

Students arrived on foot and in cars with parents in tow.

Some youngsters quickly ditched the adults and sped to classrooms. Other families stayed together, wending through a gauntlet of checks en route to the front door of a classroom.

There was quite a buzz in the atmosphere, as this marked the first time since the pandemic-driven closure of schools in March 2020 that students and staff congregated on the campus together.

But unlike before, this time all wore masks and kept at least 3 feet apart, two of the enduring defenses against spreading the potentially deadly coronavirus.

“It was exciting. Parents would grab me and say they’re so thankful that we’re back in person,” Granite Falls Superintendent Josh Middleton said. “There’s just a lot of excitement to be back in school.”

Five public school districts — Granite Falls, Darrington, Lake Stevens, Mukilteo and Northshore — kicked off the 2021-22 school year Wednesday.

Stanwood Camano will start Thursday; Lakewood begins Tuesday; and Arlington, Edmonds, Everett, Index, Marysville, Monroe, Snohomish and Sultan are set for a Sept. 8 kickoff.

Parents drop their children off at Mountain Way Elementary for the first day of school on Wednesday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Parents drop their children off at Mountain Way Elementary for the first day of school on Wednesday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It’s a beautiful day. Kids are back in their classes,” Darrington Superintendent Tracy Franke said. “I see lots of smiles around the school — well, not that I can see them, but I can see it in their eyes.”

A similar tale unfolded in Lake Stevens where officials sensed excitement and a bit of nerves from students and their families.

“Masks or no masks, (students) were pumped up to be back,” Superintendent Ken Collins said. “Parents are excited to have their kids back.”

COVID continues to create operational challenges. Take lunch, for example, where extra efforts will be needed to make sure students maintain social distancing throughout their meals, Collins said. And he said they are starting the year with a few students out for coronavirus-related reasons. Contact tracing determined they may have been exposed to someone with COVID, he explained.

The virus is causing hiccups too.

Not every bus arrived at the correct stop at the correct time in some districts. That’s not unusual on a first day. However, it could be a little more pronounced this year due to a bus driver shortage plaguing districts throughout the state.

“We did have some late buses, and we reached out to families earlier this week explaining that this may happen,” Lake Stevens school spokeswoman Jayme Taylor said in an email. “All available drivers, subs, and certified Transportation Office staff drove buses today, and will continue to do so this week. We appreciate the partnership we have with our families, along with their patience and grace as we navigate these first few days of school.”

Laura Decker talks to her second grade class on the first day of school at Mountain Way Elementary on Wednesday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Laura Decker talks to her second grade class on the first day of school at Mountain Way Elementary on Wednesday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Absent on Wednesday were any demonstrations by those deadset against making students wear masks, and those against Gov. Jay Inslee’s edict that all public school employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October if they want to keep their jobs.

Superintendents said they have really made a concerted effort to explain to parents the importance of following state rules, in order to sustain in-person instruction five days a week.

“We want to return to as much normalcy as possible but with masks and social distancing,” Middleton said. “My message to parents has been that we need to follow these protocols because we do not want to go back to fully remote learning. I think people get it. We all have the same goal.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said COVID’s continuing presence will test Washington’s public education system as more schools will begin classes next week, right after the Labor Day holiday. He urged families to keep any gatherings small and involve only members of the same household.

“There are cases. There will continue to be cases,” he said. “We all need to be super patient.”

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; 360-352-8623 @dospueblos

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