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School begins with masks, distancing
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WCMS student Elly Bain jots down notes in a socially distanced classroom Wednesday during the first day of school.
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Hand sanitizer is readily available at WCMS, even in this rigged-up stand made from PVC pipe that was placed in a hallway.

Warren County Middle School seventh-grader Phoebe Kneip was glad to be back at school on Wednesday.

“That was one long spring break,” she quipped, while standing at her locker.

Warren County Schools closed March 13 for what was supposed to be a one-week spring break. Turns out, that was the last day of the school year as COVID-19 began to sink its claws into society.

Wednesday marked a grand reopening, but with clear differences. The 2020-21 school year began with masks and social distancing to replace smiles and group gatherings.

“What I hate most about the masks is you can’t see expressions,” said WCMS principal Gerald Tidwell. “You want to see enjoyment. You want to see smiles, from the students and the teachers, and the masks hide that.”

Much about school has changed since coronavirus has infiltrated our lives. There’s no more mingling in the halls or socializing at lockers. Students are not allowed to cram around a lunch table. And there are masks at every turn.

“For us, X marks the spot,” said Tidwell, pointing to X’s positioned around the school. “You sit on an X and you stand on an X. They have all been measured and are 6 feet apart.”

The student body has been split roughly in half. Students with last names A-L are to attend school on Mondays and Wednesdays. Students with last names M-Z are to attend Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday is a remote learning day for all.

“It’s gone awfully smooth with just half the students,” said Tidwell. “There are some positives to this. It makes for smaller class sizes, which is always desirable. It will provide an opportunity for more 1-on-1 learning. With the way COVID is now, it’s something I think should be extended at least for the first nine weeks.”

The School Board agreed to a 2.5-week, phase-in period using this model. Under current guidelines, it will last until Aug. 28, but there’s already been talk of extending it.

Most classes were roughly divided in half using the A-L and M-Z system. 

However, in cases where some classes might have 15 students one day and 6 students the other, school officials will look to make changes.

“We’re going to see how things shape up these first two days,” said Tidwell. “If it’s a situation where a class is disproportionately divided, we’ll be contacting parents to see if they’re willing to change days. Friday will be our day to make adjustments.”