Social distancing and face coverings were the highlight of Northwest Allen County Schools’ first student day Aug. 12 — the first time student bodies have come together in person since schools closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although students were given the option of remote learning through the fall semester, the vast majority of families opted to send their children to in-person schooling this year. While the exact count won’t be taken until September, NACS reported 86.4% of its students indicated they would return onsite, while 13.6% chose to continue remote learning from home. After completing the registration process the first week in August, NACS saw an increase of roughly 100 students within the district.

For students returning to school buildings, the first day included a plethora of safety precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the Allen County Department of Health and a team of doctors working closely with the district, including Parkview doctors Michael Knipp, Tony GiaQuinta and Jeffrey Boord, and Allen County Health Commissioner Matthew Sutter.

“We’ve worked really hard since the end of the last school year to prepare for this moment and get ready,” NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said, “and we’re still navigating uncharted waters. There’s no playbook for what we’re supposed to do, so we’re just doing the best we can, working really hard and consulting with people like Dr. Knipp, Dr. GiaQuinta, Dr. Boord and Dr. Sutter. We’ve asked lots of questions, and they’ve been so gracious with their time in answering those questions, and helping us understand the facts behind what they’re seeing at the hospital, behind what they’re seeing in their science journals about how the virus acts, and trying to put things in place.”

At Perry Hill Elementary School and other buildings throughout the district, students kept their distance from each other and were required to wear face masks. Lunch periods looked especially different at Perry Hill, where students were required to eat with only their classmates. Staff cleaned tables, chairs and floors between each period as a safety precaution.

“We really are excited to see kids and get into a routine,” Himsel said. “It’s going to be a little bit different — we’re going to be wearing some masks and we’re going to try to maintain distance — but we’re going to try to get into a routine and have our kids enjoy developing and growing and doing what kids do, and take good care of them.”

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