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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Back to school: Deer Park students, families find joy in a hint of normal

For the kids at Arcadia Elementary School in Deer Park, finding their home room was easy.

They just followed the yellow-dot road.

Little is normal these days, but Principal Lori Burke and her staff went out of their way to make it fun on the first day of the school year.

Counselor Amy Bachman went even farther. Still recovering from knee surgery and sitting in a chair, Bachman scooted herself out the front door and out to the parking lot.

“I just love seeing their faces,” Bachman said Tuesday morning. “I just miss them so much.”

If only there had been hugs.

But even beneath their masks, you could make out the smiles on the students’ faces as they waited for a signal. Then they followed the large yellow dots painted on the walkways.

Six months after schools were shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee’s closure order, the kids were back where they belong.

That was the whole point.

As he dropped off two of his four children at Arcadia, Steven Clark said he was appreciative of “some normalcy in the family routine.”

“I know it’s going to be a learning experience for everyone,” Clark said.

That also includes the 25% of Deer Park families who elected to keep their children home. Internet is spotty in some areas, and not everyone has a hotspot.

The other 75% of Deer Park’s 2,600 students will attend in cohorts, with half in class on Mondays and Thursdays and the other half on Tuesdays and Fridays. The cohorts will also be in buildings on alternate Wednesdays.

For Deer Park and many other districts, it came down to giving families a choice.

“We’re thrilled to give families this opportunity,” said Deer Park Superintendent Travis Hanson, whose district is among the first in Spokane County to begin the year with students in their buildings.

“We’re so proud … because for some of our families, remote learning is no learning,” Hanson said.

Riverside and Freeman students also were back in classrooms, while Cheney opened with distance learning only.

Post Falls and Lakeland also opened the doors, the latter 5 days a week with masks optional.

However, at Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, fewer than half the students were wearing masks as they emerged from buses, and no safety protocols were observed at the front door.

Deer Park’s safety measures are similar to those found in most Washington districts.

Students arrived with bright orange cards attesting that they hadn’t been exposed to coronavirus.

And face coverings are mandatory. When one boy arrived without one, Principal Lori Burke called her office and a mask arrived within 2 minutes.

In Monica Emtman’s class, third -graders washed their hands, took their socially distanced seats and received breakfast from a classmate who wore gloves.

Central Valley and West Valley will open Wednesday with distance learning only. Spokane Public Schools will do the same on Monday.

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