By Kristina Rex

BROCKTON (CBS) – Brockton Public Schools students haven’t returned to their physical school buildings since March 12, 2020. “It’s been tough on our families,” Superintendent Mike Thomas told WBZ. “Their kids have been home for a year, so childcare issues, and having their young ones home for an entire year. It’s been so tough on our families.”

That will change starting Tuesday, when the district will welcome back 700 high-needs students for in person learning in a hybrid model, with plans to bring even more students back next week.

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“We’re thrilled to have our students back,” Thomas said.

Similar situations are true in Fitchburg and Fall River, which welcomed students to the classrooms Monday for the first time in months — socially-distanced and masked, of course.

In Saugus, high-needs students have been learning in person for a while, and the district is preparing to welcome more students back on Thursday. “So we’ve had a chance to practice it all, just on a smaller scale,” Superintendent Dr. David Deruosi Jr. explained.

Deruosi said the district has tried to implement a hybrid learning plan several times, only to be pushed back by rising COVID-19 case numbers in the town hard hit by the virus. “There’s gonna be no good time, right? We come back in March, then it’s April vacation,” Deruosi explained. “Our policies are in place. We’re ready. We’ve been ready. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not.”

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Coupled with standard COVID-19 concerns is the return from February vacation. The Department of Education had asked families to avoid social gatherings and travel over break to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools upon return.

School administrations are now implementing plans for virus surveillance as families return. In Salem, students — most of whom are learning in person in some capacity — will be tested weekly at school through a first-of-its-kind in Massachusetts pool testing program. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to have everyone in our buildings tested on a regular basis,” Mayor Kim Driscoll told WBZ. “This is one way we can keep everybody safe.”

Students will be tested with a nasal swab, then 10 swabs will be combined and tested. If any trace of COVID-19 is found, those students will isolate until individual testing determines who tested positive.

“It’s the peace of mind,” Mayor Driscoll said.

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Teachers and staff have been regularly tested in Salem for months, and the district hopes expanding testing to students as well will allow older grades to shift from hybrid learning to full in person learning in the future.

Kristina Rex