Monday marked the first day of school in many communities across western Massachusetts, including Springfield where some students returned to in-person learning for the first time in over a year.

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Monday marked the first day of school in many communities across western Massachusetts, including Springfield where some students returned to in-person learning for the first time in over a year.

At Putnam Vocational Technical High School, over 1,400 students returned to the classroom.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Springfield Public School Supt. Dan Warwick stopped by Putnam to welcome students back to school and encourage eligible students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“That was number one - getting permission slips for the vaccine, so their parents can sign and we can offer it right here,” Warwick explained.

Schools in the city will offer on-site vaccine clinics. Permission slips went home to parents on Monday. George Johnson, the principal at Putnam, said the school is taking added precautions.

“We broke the lunches into half to keep the kids at a safe distance and stagger their lunches,” Johnson added.

There is also contact tracing.

“We have a seating chart for the same kids…sit in the same seats every single day, so if something does occur, we have contract tracing immediately,” Johnson said.

As for how kids feel to be back, one seventh grader at South End Middle School is happy to get out of the house again.

“It’s not remote learning where you have to just look at a computer,” said Jayla Gonzalez.

However, some parents still have their concerns about the safety measures in place.

“It’s protection for a little bit, but not from everything,” said Joaquin Ramos.

Warwick told Western Mass News they went above and beyond state standards to improve ventilation in the schools to combat the airborne virus, but those not comfortable returning in-person have the option to enroll in remote school. Ultimately, for him, the first day is about acknowledging all the hard work that led to this point and continuing to work hard.

“It’s a unique environment and staffing is a huge challenge, but we’re filling the holes any way we can and we have staff ready to be with our kids,” Warwick noted.

Warwick also told us they are monitoring the virus every single day. The mask mandate will be in place at public schools in Massachusetts through at least October 1.

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