GASTONIA, N.C. — For the first time since 2019, Gaston County Schools returned to five days a week of in-person instruction Monday.
The first day of school came a week after the county school board voted to make masks mandatory for students after previously deciding to make them optional.
Heather DuBois, a second-grade teacher at W.A. Bess Elementary School, feels confident the students will follow the rules.
"I really think they know the importance of it," DuBois said. "I think when you walk into a classroom, and you see the desks that are spread apart, and you teach those procedures from day one, they follow them. They know that."
Like all of the county's schools, W.A. Bess Elementary School's hallways have directional arrows and social distancing markers on the floors, hand sanitizer stations, and classroom desks spread three feet apart.
"As we walk in the school building, you'll be able to see markers on the floor that's directional and to help our students gauge where that social distancing is," Principal Laura Clark said.
Fifth-grader Emma Jolly said she's excited to be back to a full week of in-person classes.
"It feels better to do it at school because you get to make new friends, and you get to learn a lot more at school," Jolly said.
Siblings Jasmine and Jeffery Thompson are also looking forward to their favorite school activities.
"I like to read and build," Jasmine said. "I like to play outside at recess."
Her younger brother Jeffery, who's in third grade, added, "I like school. It's fun and we're learning."
Allie Padgett, a fifth-grader, said her passion is science because of the experiments they do in class.
"Sometimes it can be a little hard, but if you keep trying, you can still do it," Padgett said.
The subject Allie's mom, Jenna Stover, and Emma's grandmother, Geraldine Collins, are most focused on is COVID-19, as the county tries to safely go in person five days a week.
The school board's reversal on mask-wearing angered some parents, but Stover and Collins supported it.
"If we had an option, she was going to wear one anyway," Collins said.
"I know it's a controversial topic, and I know it's not easy for some of the kids to wear them," Stover said. "But I think if it's for the safety of everybody, it's a good idea."
Administrators believe wearing masks will lower the number of children who need to quarantine if someone in class tests positive.
The Gaston County Board of Education is scheduled to review their mask mandate at their Sept. 20 board meeting.
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