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DALLAS – Full classrooms, full days.

Students returned to classrooms in Dallas School District, and around the state last week to teachers and staff eager to greet them.

The day after Labor Day was mostly dedicated to orientation for students in Dallas to allow especially young students to adjust to coming into a new building every day.

“It was just fabulous to welcome our families and students and community on site,” said Lyle Elementary School Principal Rachel Alpert. “It was so nice to have that traditional back to school experience.”

Full student return happened on Wednesday, with the unexpected surprise of enrollment similar to before COVID-19 took its toll.

“The overall district enrollment is at pre-pandemic levels. So we are up almost 100 students at Dallas High School, but the elementary grades were down slightly,” Superintendent Andy Bellando said. “I think that is telling of the hunger of parents and students to have their students back in school, but I think it’s also reflective of the confidence people have in Dallas School District to support their kids.”

The new school year comes with COVID-19 safety protocol, which is an ever-changing landscape, meant to keep students in school full time for the first time since the 2019-20 school year.

“Dallas schools, as all districts in Oregon, are implementing multiple mitigation measures across the district in every school building and every school site,” Bellando said.

He said each site has multiple hand sanitizing stations and is emphasizing increased hand washing.

“We’ve increased air flow by 20% on average in all work spaces and classrooms in the district. We have a face covering requirement for all employees and all students. Those are just a few. There are multiple mitigation measures in place,” Bellando said. “I can confidently share that the practices that are being administered in Dallas School District are extensive, and I believe keeping students and staff safe.”

Bellando said that students, parents and staff have been following the measures.

“I appreciate students and parents and staff members and volunteers following the face covering rule. There’s no question in mind that this is not the ideal,” Bellando said. “None of us want to have to wear face coverings, but the information that we are receiving is clear. They do help make our schools safer, and help slow or prevent the spread of the virus.”

Schools are attending to students mental health after a year and half of remote or hybrid school. Teachers are leading classrooms through exercises that serve as check-ins for how students are feeling, what is going well and what could be improved.

LaCreole Middle School Principal Kass Knoll, who is new to the district this year, said in some cases students are relearning how to “do school.”

“Sixth-graders haven’t been in school full-time since fourth-grade. They are learning how to do school again,” she said. “They’ve been rock stars.”

Alpert said the pandemic helped her and Lyle’s staff sharpen how buildings are run during what is now the new normal.

“I think we are feeling really good about our building operations right now,” Alpert said.

She said everyone in the school has the goal of keeping students in class. She looks forward to having every school day start like it did on Wednesday, with all students coming though the doors.

“I know that’s what every educator at Lyle wants,” Alpert said. “We are working very hard to make sure that that is the story of this year, and every year forward, that all of our kiddos are here every day for full days.”

Alpert thanked the community for its willingness to follow safety measures and patience through the pandemic.

Students, like their teachers, were excited for a return to a school setting that is akin to normal.

“I’m glad to see the kids back,” Bellando said. “It’s interesting. Even wearing masks, you can tell when people are smiling and happy. Their eyes smile and their body language smiles. We are seeing lots of that right now.”

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