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caption: Ariana Perez hugs her niece, Romina Ruiz, 6, before her first day of first grade at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle. 
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Ariana Perez hugs her niece, Romina Ruiz, 6, before her first day of first grade at Mount View Elementary school on Thursday, September 2, 2021, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Air hugs. No singing. Lunch outside: School in the time of coronavirus

There were no hugs on the first day of school at Mount View Elementary in White Center.

Yes to air hugs, however.

Black-and-yellow caution tape ran down the stairs to create two lanes of traffic.

And then there was lunch, with some kids sitting on the ground to eat.

Welcome back to school — the third academic year with Covid. Schools had been closed until last spring, and then mandated by the state to be open five days a week, with safety measures in place. Keeping all kids remote just didn’t seem to be an option , given how far students fell behind, and how depressed and despondent children became. Covid hasn’t waned, but the governor declared schools would have to manage the pandemic with students in the building.

The marks of the pandemic can be seen throughout the school. Covid-19 precautions touch almost every part of the day. Kids line up, with teachers reminding them to leave space between them, they filter out into hallways split with black and yellow caution tape to create one-way lanes. There’s a system using orange cones to make sure not too many students are in the bathrooms at one time.

Everywhere you look, people are wearing masks.

On the first day at Mount View Elementary school last week, Principal Laura Kaplan and Assistant Principal Lyon Terry went class to class to introduce themselves. Mount View is a dual language program in the Highline School District; instruction is in Spanish and English. In the classrooms, desks were arranged differently so that students could be more spaced out.

Music class was also different — no singing. In the morning, first graders met with teacher Chris Schultz. Schultz called on students to name the instruments. A first grader pointed to a small guitar, calling it a ukulele.

“When we’re able to sing safely we’ll use this a lot,” Schultz said.

In another classroom, this one empty, a lone teacher sat, talking enthusiastically into a computer. This was for the virtual option at Highline School District, which includes Mount View Elementary.

Figuring out lunch time safety was important, as it is when masks come down. The students sat outdoors, on the concrete or on benches. They knew where to sit because of Xs taped on the ground, six feet apart. When students would drift over to each other, vigilant teachers had to remind them to return to their spot.

Some of the upper grades had one class eat inside, but they were spread out. A table that would normally hold four or eight kids only had two, one at each end, both facing the same direction.

But for most of lunch time, the cafeteria was full of empty tables and more caution tape.

Things will look different when the weather turns. Plans for rainy, snowy, or smoky days will have to be worked out.

Also, no heat will be allowed on school buses.

The return to full time in-person learning isn’t going to be without its road bumps, and neither was the first day back. Things were just a little different and that takes some getting used to for everyone.

Throughout the day, staff strategized in real time. They could see that there were some points in their process that needed tweaking. And they huddled on the fly, discussing what was going well and how they could make things smoother moving forward.

But all things considered, things went fairly smoothly as students and teachers learn to be flexible in the face of a mutating virus.

Lyn Strober-Cohen, Eva Solorio, and Colin Yuen contributed reporting to this story.