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Lake Placid Central has in-person classes 5 days a week

Lake Placid elementary school students Leila and Max Fey get off the bus on their first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 8. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — The schoolyard was quiet.

Just before the official start of the 2020-21 school year on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the grounds outside of the Lake Placid Elementary School were nearly empty. The sun shone over the school’s raised garden, casting a shadow across the pavement. Birds chirped overhead. The distant sound of teachers’ voices echoed from the newly rebuilt entryway. The calm before the storm.

At this time last year, students arrived in droves for their first day of school. Small crowds gathered at the entryways. Teachers and administrators stood outside the building and excitedly greeted kids as they arrived — sang songs to them, gave them hugs and high-fives, and commented on how much they’d grown over the summer.

The coronavirus pandemic has derailed many of the norms that local students were able to expect from their school experience. School buses now have to have limited capacity. Students won’t be traveling through the hallways as frequently. Lunchtime in the school cafeteria won’t be the same, at least for now. Class outdoors, once a rarity, is expected to become a regular occurrence — the elementary school now has nine outdoor classrooms, according to school Principal Sonja Franklin. Recess will take place in six different locations. Even arriving at school for their first day of classes looked a lot different this year.

The students’ arrival was somewhat muted compared to last year. Their arrival times were staggered. Kids were kept apart before entering the building, and fewer teachers were outside to greet them. But the enthusiasm of those teachers was much the same as last year, with an added sense of relief for some — the sight of students was a moment of relative normality in an otherwise unusual time.

Students stood 6 feet apart as they waited to enter the building, a distance marked by yellow smiley faces painted on the pavement. Select school staff stood at each entryway, calling children up one by one to take their temperatures.

“Can I take my mask off?” one student asked, touching his mask for a moment before dropping his hand to his side.

“No, you have to keep your mask on,” Teaching Assistant Peggy Moore said as she took his temperature with a digital, no-touch thermometer. “Your teacher will tell you when it’s OK to take it off.”

The arrival process was methodical, and appeared to unfold as administrators had planned ahead of time. No large crowds formed, and at the elementary school, there wasn’t a long line of cars with parents waiting to drop their children off. Altogether, it took roughly 20 minutes for the school’s more than 200 students to enter the building, even with one of the school buses getting stuck in a traffic jam elsewhere. Franklin said she was pleased with how things went, and happy that the process went so quickly.

At the Lake Placid Middle-High School, a line of cars for student drop-offs on Cummings Road extended beyond the bottom of the hill and caused some delay. The road was reduced to one-lane traffic for the drop-off period. District Superintendent Roger Catania said administrators will work with the Lake Placid Police Department to evaluate whether the drop-off process needs to be altered.

Not all students returned to school in person on Tuesday. As their classmates walked into class, some students were logging onto their computers from home, preparing for another school year amid an ongoing global pandemic.

Students at the middle-high school will enter the school building after 7:20 a.m. The number of classes is being reduced from nine per day to five per day. There won’t be a 10th period, and the staggered dismissal schedule will start at 2 p.m. At the elementary school, students will be arriving after 8 a.m. Staggered dismissals start at 2:45 p.m.