Thousands of students in the DeKalb County School District returned to the classroom Tuesday — nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to transition to remote learning.

Standing outside John Robert Lewis Elementary School in Brookhaven, Principal LaShawn McMillan said she was excited to see the students.

“We have missed them so much,” she said. “We have been preparing for this day to bring our children back into the building for quite some time.”

DeKalb students in prekindergarten through second grade, as well as sixth and ninth grades, returned to school buildings as part of the district reopening plan. Students in the remaining grades can return next week. Remote learning continues for those who prefer it.

John Lewis Elementary School has about 890 students enrolled, and McMillan said she expects about 785 children to return to classrooms.

ExploreDeKalb schools: Learning loss from online classes lower than expected

A steady stream of students were dropped off by buses and parents outside the school early Tuesday. School staff greeted the children.

Members of the district’s Parent and Family Engagement Department also stood outside the school, passing out packets to parents that included contact information about teachers and staff, a snack and a school calendar.

Sofia Godinez, who dropped off her child at the school, said she prefers in-person learning.

“It’s not the same as when they are in school and learning,” she said. “You have to worry about if the work is getting done. At school, you know it’s getting done.”

To help curtail the spread of COVID-19, the school provides gloves, masks and face shields for teachers and students. Classroom seating is spaced for social distancing, McMillan said.

Students will not eat in the cafeteria. Instead, they will be escorted by teachers to retrieve their meals before returning to the classroom to eat.

DeKalb and other districts closed their doors in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It began the 2020-21 school year with remote learning for all students.

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The district is among the last in metro Atlanta to reopen classrooms to students. Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry county schools began offering in-person learning to students during the fall semester. Atlanta Public Schools began rolling out its reopening plan in January.

Only Clayton County schools remain virtual, but the district said it will allow its pre-K through fifth grade students to return to campus for face-to-face instruction starting April 12.

The DeKalb district, which has more than 93,000 students, has reported 921 cases — 718 among staff and 203 stemming from students ― of COVID-19 since July 1. More than 13,500 cases of the coronavirus have been reported across eight metro districts since the school year began.

COVID-19: DeKalb County Public Schools

- Cases reported from July 1 to March 4: 718 staff, 203 students

-Total cases from July 1 to March 4: 921

- Total number of students in system: 93,000