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It was a warm welcome for students returning to in-person learning in Montgomery County

At Richard Montgomery High School, the school marching band and cheer team helped welcome students back to the building on Monday.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — It's a big day in Montgomery County as thousands of students return to school.

About 160,000 students will return to in-person learning, five days a week in Montgomery County. Another 3,000 students enrolled in the school district's virtual academy.

"What we've had to navigate throughout this entire pandemic is pivoting and preparing for the unknown, while we are all trying to protect the interests of our students. A big part of what we've learned is how we are facing an opportunity to rebuild public education. Many of the traditions that we've had in place have been in place for centuries and it probably would not change unless something truly came along that forced that change in a meaningful way. To me I believe that was Covid 19," said Montgomery County’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight.

The principal of Richard Montgomery High School said they've been preparing for this day for more than a year.

"The morning has been filled with so much energy from students who are excited to be here. We had our cheerleaders and our band here welcoming students back for this very special first day of school," said Principal Alicia Deeny. 

As a mother of a rising fifth-grade student, Principal Deeny said they've been counting down the days for the first day of school.

"I’m super excited that my son gets to go back today. He found out what other kids are in his class and he’s excited to see his friends again, to meet his new teachers to ride the bus, he’s going to be a bus patrol so all that fun stuff I’m excited for him to be able to go back to school and interact with his classmates," said Principal Alicia Deeny.

Principal Deeny explained some of the safety measures in place, as students return to the classroom.

"Wearing a mask is obviously the number one, we want to make sure if students are ill that they are staying home and letting us know if there is a concern about an exposure," said Principal Alicia Deeny.

In addition to the mask mandate, schools will either have assigned lunch tables to help with contact tracing or have students social distance.

"We have a lunch plan where students can spread out around campus and within the building and be socially distant while they are eating," said Deeny. 

"Utilizing our outdoor spaces and some of our untraditional spaces in our schools becomes even more important. When we think about school capacity we also have to compare when traditionally we've used those spaces in very traditional ways. When we spread our students out and truly do take advantage in innovative ways of how our students are utilizing those spaces then we are able to create new opportunities of new learning spaces and sometimes our students even come up with great suggestions on how to do that," said Montgomery County’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight said there will also be additional support for elementary school students under 12 years old, who are unable to be vaccinated. This year there will be protocols in place, including testing those students to help them stay safe.

"What we've had to navigate throughout this entire pandemic is pivoting and preparing for the unknown while we are all trying to protect the interests of our students and making sure they continue to learn in safe spaces. I continue to think about our students who are particularly vulnerable to COVID19 and that represent those who are under 12. They don't have the vaccination available to them so we have been very intentional when thinking about how we prepare those spaces for our students, our elementary students and specifically our 6th graders as well. So that's why we have our protocols in place-such as testing for those students under the age of 12, knowing they are not vaccinated," said Montgomery County’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight.

RELATED: DC Public Schools prepare to welcome students back with new COVID safety policies

RELATED: Fairfax County Public Schools students return to in-person learning

This school year teachers and staff will also be required to either get vaccinated or agree to weekly testing.

"Yes, we are requiring our staff members in Montgomery County Public Schools to get vaccinated, if they can. If they cannot, they must submit to weekly testing. So the vaccine is required or they must submit to weekly testing," said Montgomery County’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight.