It was a full return to school on Friday for most students in Southington and Cheshire.
They sported colorful backpack straps on their shoulders, as well as new sneakers and face masks as they entered and exited school buildings in the morning and afternoon.
On Woodruff Street, near DePaolo Middle School, the parents of some students waited by their parked cars after the school bell had signaled the day’s end.
It was at Kennedy, the town’s other middle school, where officials had reported the district’s first confirmed COVID-19 case of the new school year. Officials did not say whether the case involved a student or a staff member.
School Superintendent Timothy Connellan said that case was reported to the district prior to the start of school Friday. Those who had been in close contact with the individual were notified and advised of quarantine procedures.
That news did not disrupt the school day for most Kennedy students and staff.
“We are committed to maintaining a safe environment for students and staff and will proactively apply the appropriate response and mitigation strategies,” Connellan said in a statement to families. “Consistent with the state-wide protocol, quarantine strategies have been applied as appropriate in this situation and the appropriate families notified. This situation will be monitored closely in conjunction with local public health officials.”
He added testing is “always an option that should be explored.” However, Connellan noted, “Neither the school district nor the health department can mandate that someone is tested.”
Connellan, in his last update to families, explained that between the time the confirmed positive individual was last in the Kennedy building and when classes started Friday, the building had been cleaned and sanitized.
Board of Education members have been apprised of the situation as well, explained board Chairwoman Terri Carmody.
With that exception, the first day of school was mostly filled with enthusiasm, officials and educators reported.
“Overall it's gone well. We were very very pleased about that, especially to hear it from the kids,” Carmody said, in reference to an update on school opening the board had received Thursday night from its student representatives.
Toni-Ann Rock, a sixth grade science teacher at DePaolo, stood along the sidewalk Friday afternoon near the school’s entrance as students boarded buses and left for the day. She described what she called a “fantastic” first day with the entire staff and the majority of students back.
“We’re ironing out all the kinks. This is all new to every one of us,” said Rock, who wore a blue mask as she spoke. “The kids are great. All of the stuff we have to figure out is less than great. But it’s a necessity to keep them happy, and safe and learning and they’re great.”
“We had a really fabulous week reopening,” said Diana Burns, principal of Chapman Elementary School in Cheshire.
More than 80 percent of Chapman students are back in classrooms. Even those students who aren’t physically in their buildings have access to their teachers and peers via what Burns described as “a very sophisticated broadcast system.”
Their faces show up on screen in their classrooms, allowing them to interact with their classmates.
“It’s just like they’re in class,” Burns said.
There were some hiccups. But those were quickly addressed by what Burns said is a “strong technology department” in the school district.
Jeffrey Solan, superintendent of schools in Cheshire, echoed Burns’ remarks.
“It’s been really terrific. I’m so impressed,” Solan said, after several days of visits to schools. New practices, including lunches and classes outdoors under large tents, seemed to go well, Solan said.
At Derynoski Elementary School in Southington, Principal Jan Verderame said the soft opening approach — with small groups of students in the building — during the first three days “really helped the students get used to the new procedures and protocols.”
Like families, staff were anxious to see their students back in classrooms.
“They wanted to teach them in person,” Verderame said.
While students and staff did wear facemasks covering their mouths and noses throughout most of the day, it was not hard to detect smiles.
“You could see the joy with their mannerisms. They were glad to be back,” Verderame said.
Reporter Lauren Sellew contributed to this story.