Valley students head back to school hoping for a more normal experience amid COVID-19 pandemic

As the school year begins for some in the Valley, many students and teachers are hoping that going back to school is normal once again after a rough year navigating COVID-19 protocols.

Because of the pandemic, school last year consisted mostly of virtual learning, social distancing and wearing masks.

Officials with the Chandler Unified School District say after a difficult year, they are more than ready to start this year off.

"We've been excited for July 21 all along," said Terry Locke with Chandler Unified School District. 'We've circled that date. Our staff have a bounce in their step."

School prepares for classes amid ongoing pandemic

Not all COVID-19 protocols are off the table, however. Stewart says teachers will be asked to clean their classrooms three times a day.

"The door knobs and desks and anything shared, supplies, anything little hands touch, we want to clean to do everything we can to keep schools open," Anderson Junior High School principal Allyson Stewart says.

"We'll have a number of mitigations in place, including social distancing whenever feasible, directional traffic to we're not crossing and so forth. Students will be able to eat with their friends in an assigned seat in the cafeteria, but in the same direction," said Locke.

With safety precautions and hand sanitizer in every classroom, Stewart asks for the community's support in keeping kids healthy.

"It used to be a thing, maybe send your kid to school a little sniffly or sick, so hopefully that’s over now. So we just ask for the community support, do your part, we’ll do ours and we’ll cross our fingers for an awesome year, Stewart says, adding that students and families will not be asked if they've been vaccinated.

Some parents are expressing confidence in what the district is doing.

"The school takes a lot of mitigation steps, and it looks like they're ready for this first day of school," said one parent.

Parents react

For students in Florence, Queen Creek, and Chandler school districts, classes started on July 21, and while the students were ready for their first day of classes at Conley Elementary in Chandler, parents were the ones with the first day jitters.

"It's kind of sad, in a weird kind of way," said one parent. "You know it seems like yesterday they were in diapers, and now it seems like they're going to college. It's sad, but they're happy to meet new friends and have a good time."

Even though COVID-19 cases have been increasing in Arizona and across the US, some parents are still not too concerned with their children heading back to their desks.

Jayme Thrailkill, a Chandler Unified mom, says she won't ask her kids to wear masks and she's not concerned about COVID-19.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has recently enacted laws prohibiting schools from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine or masks, even going so far as to sending letters of reprimand to districts that implemented quarantine measures.

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