‘They all look like bank robbers’: Excitement, trepidation mingle as students return to school

ST. GEORGE — Students and teachers in the Washington County School District and some area charter schools returned to school Thursday. Parents and district leaders approached the day with a mixture of trepidation amid uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic as well as excitement to finally have students back in the classroom after having been out of school since March.

Washington County School District students pose for a first day of school photo in their masks, Santa Clara, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

Chief among the concerns for parents was Gov. Gary Herbert’s state mandate that masks must be worn inside the school buildings.

Krystal Mumford, the mother of a 10th grader at Snow Canyon High School, told St. George News that she was excited for school to start but didn’t necessarily like the way they were having to go back to school in what she called fear.

“I don’t like how they are having to go back. I hate that I have to send him to school in a mask. I hate that we have to live our lives in fear right now. This is definitely not how I pictured my son’s sophomore year,” Mumford said.

“They all look like bank robbers,” she added.

Amy Chesley, the mother of a sixth grader at Sunrise Ridge Intermediate, said she was worried about her son wearing a mask because he already struggles with breathing issues.

“I’m excited to go back but nervous because of the masks,” Chesley said.

That said, Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News they will continue to follow the state mandate because it helps accomplish the district’s main goal to keep the schools open and kids in classrooms.

A Washington County School District student poses for a first day of school photo in his mask, Dammeron Valley, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Annette Graf, St. George News

Masks were not the only thing that looked different in the district as students started coming back to school. Desks in classrooms were spaced as far apart as possible and students who would typically be hugging and high-fiving their friends were giving elbow bumps instead.

Dunham recognized that these changes don’t come without some fear and anxiety both about school safety as well as the students’ emotional well-being.

“It is safe to say there is some anxiety out there,” Dunham said, adding that the district has been working since May to be sure they are doing everything they can to keep kids and teachers safe, including purchasing masks, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, because they believe it is important to get kids back to school.

This is emotionally taxing on everybody, and we have definitely seen sadness in our community among the young people and their families,” Dunham said. “By getting schools open, we can now provide additional emotional help that these kids have been missing for months and months.”

It is that sense of normalcy and emotional support from friends that Andrea Smith, a mother of an eighth grader at Snow Canyon Middle School and a 10th grader at Snow Canyon High School, said is why she is happy to have her children return to school.

“It was so nice to see a little bit of normalcy when I dropped them off, so many happy kids,” Paulson said.

Mumford agreed, adding she is excited there is going to be a football season for her son to play, though she is not sure how it will work with social distancing.

Recognizing that it has been a difficult year and that the adjustment to new mandates and health procedures can take a toll on students, Dunham said they have school counselors on hand for anyone who needs that additional support.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can for the benefit of the students and the teachers,” he said.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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