Seward Elementary

Students start joining their teachers in line outside of Seward Elementary School for the first day of classes on the morning of Aug. 13.

It was almost comforting, some of the familiar feelings that the first day of school brought.

Parents proudly walked their younger children into their respective groups and watched as their elementary-aged children walked into class. Some reflected on how quickly time has passed while others joked about how quiet their home just became.

Older students, either in the middle school or high school, returned to the familiar hallways they hadn't seen in nearly five months. They hadn't seen some of their friends in that long either.

All that made Aug. 13, the first day of the 2020-21 academic year, a permanent memory for those involved.

Seward Public Schools started its in-person learning that day, welcoming students back for classes for the first time since the pandemic forced the district into remote learning on March 17.

The 2019-20 academic year ended with little acclaim. The Seward High School Class of 2020 waited until the first day of August for a graduation ceremony. By then, school officials devised a multifaceted plan to welcome students back. Following numerous meetings and drafts, the plan was implemented Aug. 13.

“Even my own kids were excited to be back to school and see their friends,” SPS Superintendent Dr. Josh Fields said. “It was good to get back in that routine. It's just unbelievable to think about, that we left March 17 and haven't been back since.”

Students wore face coverings into school, a measure that's become standard affair. Other new rules include keeping groups of students together in order to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus. Students and teacher alike have been asked to adapt to these changes.

“The cleaning thing is a big responsibility, working with staff and teachers,” Fields said. “Until you do it for a couple days, it'll take a little while. Overall it went really well and there's things we'll continue to learn and make those tweaks.”

One example is moving the elementary recesses into quadrants to maintain distancing. There are seat assignments at the lunch table instead of letting students sit wherever to eat. Staff even has to place silverware on trays for students to limit germ transmission. Those were the sanitary and precautionary steps staff have taken in order to welcome students back to classes safely.

“I just thought that it was great to see kids back to school and smiles on their faces,” Fields said. “It had been some 141 days since we saw kids in person. It was great to see kids back in school. Overall, things went well. Obviously there are bugs, but we'll get those fixed.”

Those “bugs” brought concerns from parents. One parent, who dropped off children at the middle school and elementary school for first-day classes, said that the parents had been deceived by school officials who reiterated safety in the preceding weeks. She told the Independent that when she dropped off her child at the middle school and saw principal Kirk Gottschalk's mask below his nose, she told him to pull it up. He did not. The reasoning she was given, she said, was “his glasses fog up so he doesn't pull the mask up over his nose.”

When dropping off their students, most parents wore face coverings while they were on school grounds. Only a select few wore no face coverings at all. Faculty and staff wore face coverings, per school district's precautionary measures.

As of Aug. 13, Ralston and Millard school districts already experienced confirmed cases of coronavirus in school. Lincoln Southwest High School confirmed a student went to the nurse's office on the first day experiencing symptoms. Seward County, meanwhile, had no such experience but is the location of 78 confirmed cases in the past three weeks. That's the most of any county in the Four Corners Health District and the most in a three-week stretch since the start of the pandemic.

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