EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Students grabbed their backpacks, school supplies and for some, their masks, as they headed into their school doors for the first time since early 2020. Ysleta, Socorro and El Paso ISD’s all welcomed students and staff back on Monday for the first day of school.
“Last time our son went to school was fourth grade and now he’s starting middle school,” Jason Pedragon, an EPISD parent said.
Other parents were relieved to see their children heading back to class.
“It feels like the end of a very hard era,” Meghan Portillo, a mother of a first grader, said.
The once empty halls are now filled with teachers and students. Some parents were felt mixed feelings as the pandemic continues.
“I think the thing on everyone’s mind is the Delta variant,” Portillo said.
Students ages 12 and younger are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Some parents worried as school districts cannot mandate masks as per Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order.
“I have a lot of mixed nerves because our son is 11, on the cusp of the vaccine, can;t get it yet but still around kids that may or may not be vaccinated,” Pedragon said.
However, the parents said they were happy to see their kids back in a social environment with the opportunity to interact with teachers rather than through a computer screen.
“It’s nice to have everyone in the same place and the teachers are able to focus on kids in the classroom instead of being divided,” Portillo said.
One Franklin High School freshman student, Isabella Escobedo, said she was excited to see her friends, but also had some reserves about the safety.
“You can’t really tell anyone to wear a mask anymore and I heard there is not going to be as much distance but I hope everyone does their part and continues to sanitize,” Escobedo said.
School districts all said they were following safety protocols to ensure top safety in schools. While masks can’t be mandated, EPISD, SISD and YISD superintendents said they were providing sanitizing stations at school campuses and had extra PPE aailable for students and parents who request it.
“We spoke about physical barriers and all parents have to do is a make a request and we’ll make it happen,” Vince Sheffield, EPISD Interim Superintendent said. “We’ll continue to work with local health authority as well as the state in regard to what directive to give if indeed we see some surge.”
The superintendents said from visiting different campuses, they observed the majority of students did mask up.
“A lot of students and staff were wearing masks,” SISD Interim Superintendent Marta Carmona said. “We can’t mandate them, but it was good to see a good portion of students wearing it from elementary schools to high schools.”
YISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said he estimated about 80% of teachers and students wore masks from the schools he visited.
He said the district was prepared to handle any positive cases that may arise.
“If there is a positive case and a student has not been vaccinated then they are immediately removed from the classroom and we begin contact tracing,” De La Torre said. “The biggest difference is if a student does have the vaccine they dont have to remain in quarantine for full 14-day period.”
The school districts encourage parents to contact schools directly if they’d like to accommodate plastic barriers or extra PPE for their children.