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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Staying as normal as we can’: Cheney’s first day of school brings hope, hesitation as delta gains ground

Second-grader Clayton Kenison gives Principal Celina Brennan a bouquet of flowers for the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Salnave Elementary School on Wednesday. Students are masked and in-person for classroom learning in the Cheney Public School District.  (Libby Kamrowski/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

No mask could hide the emotions of the first day of school on a crisp, sunny Wednesday morning.

After all, children were actually going into school.

“There’s no substitute for that,” said Robert Roettger, the superintendent of the Cheney School District, as he watched families arrive at Salnave Elementary School.

Moments earlier, Roettger had visited with teachers inside, where they reflected on last year’s disruption.

“No kids in school, no desks,” Roettger recalled. “But last night, I sensed the excitement … we all get that feeling the night before.

“Now you can just feel the excitement.”

Almost on cue, more parents arrived at the main entrance with their children. Some brought flowers while others dabbed at tears. Some things never change.

Nearby, more parents walked hand-in-hand with their students. Counselor Celina Brennan and counselor Gwynn Moe did their best to make everyone feel welcome on the first day.

A few moments later, Caleb Kenison walked onto the grounds and sent son Clayton into the building with mixed emotions.

“The delta variant is a bit concerning, but hopefully that vaccine comes pretty soon, so that we know he’s protected,” Caleb Kenison said.

Then Kenison paused to consider his other role as algebra teacher at Cheney Middle School.

“It will be nice to know that the kids won’t have to struggle through Zoom lessons,” Kenison said. “It was also hard to get to know their personalities on Zoom.

“I’m looking forward to seeing their reactions and playing off their excitement.”

A few feet away, an entire family was getting a new start. Caroline Gipple watched as her fifth-grade son, Oliver, received instructions on which bus to take home that afternoon.

A military family, the Gipples arrived this summer from Germany.

“It’s very exciting,” Caroline said. “I’m just hoping that this year we are staying as normal as we can.”

Roettger shares those hopes even as the delta variant of COVID-19 gains ground.

“I think a big part of it is doing the normal mitigation measures,” Roettger said. “That is, if we are sick, we stay home. If they are knowingly at school with an illness, that will be critical in avoiding quarantining.”

Wednesday was the first day of school for most districts in Spokane County, though not for most students. Also opening Wednesday were East Valley, Deer Park, Medical Lake, Riverside and Freeman.

The largest district, Spokane Public Schools, opens on Thursday.

Central Valley and Mead start next week.