Dancer Washington wasn’t sure how his 4-year-old son would react to going to school for the first time on Monday, but it didn’t take long for him to get his answer.

“I didn’t think he was going to get up at 6 this morning, but when I talked about school, he jumped out of the bed,” Washington said about Dancer Jr., who began pre-kindergarten at Lake City Elementary School in Morrow. “He was ready.”

Students in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb and DeKalb county schools headed back to classrooms Monday morning, the first districts in metro Atlanta to start the new academic year. Gwinnett County schools open Wednesday, while Atlanta Public Schools start Thursday. Fulton County students will return on Aug. 9.

In Clayton and DeKalb, that meant bringing masks to school to wear throughout the day and adhering to safety protocols that are similar to ones put in place last year because of the national surge in COVID-19 infections.

The Cobb school system, on the other hand, has made face coverings optional.

Keisha Washington takes a photo of her son Dancer on the first day of classes at Lake City Elementary School in Morrow on Aug. 3, 2021. (Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Families make a choice for what’s best for them,” said Dean Yoder, principal of Cobb County’s new Susan Todd Pearson Middle School. The school opened with about 900 students. The majority arriving by bus were wearing masks as they entered the building.

Kermine Deerlove, a parent of a first-grade son at Rocky Mount Elementary School in East Cobb, said she believes the district should have required masks because of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s going to have to happen eventually,” Deerlove said.

Bec Newmark, who also has a child attending Rocky Mount Elementary, said she was fine with Cobb making masks optional.

”It’s good for the kids to return to a sense of normalcy,” she said.

Tom and Stephanie Gross dropped off their three children at Vanderlyn Elementary and Peachtree Middle in DeKalb County. The kids all said they were happy to go back, though with some reservations.

Megan, 5, who was headed for her first day of kindergarten, wore a Paw Patrol mask and said she was excited to play with friends. Tyler, 12, who was starting seventh grade, said he too was glad to be back in class, but did not want to wear a mask all day.

”I’m OK with it to keep everyone safe,” Stephanie Gross said, echoing her husband’s sentiments.

While there may be pandemic fatigue among many, there were signs Monday that the coronavirus still has its grips on the area.

The Fulton school district initially said masks would be optional, but on Monday said it will require them in “schools located in municipalities where the rate of infection exceeds 100 per 100,000 residents.” The district also will require masks in any school located in a jurisdiction that mandates masks in public spaces.

North Clayton High School in College Park and Pointe South Middle School in Jonesboro will hold classes online through Wednesday due to several staff members having to quarantine, school officials said.

Kenia Jakeline hugs Alec Herrerd on her day of kindergarten Monday at Lake City Elementary School in Morrow on Aug. 2, 2021. (Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Drew Charter School in Atlanta, which started classes last week, ended up quarantining more than 100 students after two students and two employees tested positive for COVID-19.

In Cherokee’s Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy, parents were allowed to escort their children to their classrooms. Some had been vaccinated, some had not.

Haley and Michael Ross, both 29, fall in the latter category, having been infected in early days of the pandemic in March of 2020. They took their daughter Rylee, 6, to her first-grade classroom.

”She knows the place so she feels more comfortable,” Michael Ross said, adding she had attended kindergarten at the school the year before.

But some wish the district was more cautious and required face coverings.

”I really wish that it would be mandated,” said Ashlee Gomez, who is vaccinated and also wore a mask into the school while dropping off her son in his kindergarten classroom. “I think we’re headed in a direction where we might need to do it.”

DeKalb County parents Raqib Sheikh and Sarah Karim walked their children Ibrahim, a third-grader, and Amina, a first-grader, to Vanderlyn Elementary. The kids have learned virtually all through the pandemic. Amina, 6, had not yet attended school in person.

Sheikh and Karim said they’re glad their children are attending in person, but they’re concerned about the delta variant.

”If there wasn’t a masks mandate, there’s no way we’d send them back,” Karim said. “I’d rather home school them, even if I have to learn everything.”

A student gets off the bus on the first day of school at Clark Creek Elementary School in Acworth, Georgia, on August 2, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

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Credit: Rebecca Wright

Shantel Talley, who brought 10-year-old twins Angel and Angelique to Lake City Elementary, said the two may look alike, but had different opinions about coming back. Angel, the introvert, preferred to continue virtual learning, while her sister was more than jazzed to be back in class.

Talley said being in the classroom could help bring Angel out of her shell.

“She needs to be in class to ask the teacher questions,” Talley said. “When she’s at home in a Zoom setting, she doesn’t speak up because she doesn’t want to interrupt.”

This story will be updated. Staff writers Kristal Dixon, Alia Malik, Vanessa McCray and Ty Tagami contributed to this report.

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