By Juli McDonald

MALDEN (CBS) – Students in Malden will return to the classroom for the first time in a year, after the state denied a waiver request from the city. The goal all along has of course been to get students and staff safely back inside the buildings every day. But the waiver would have allowed a little more transition time to work out the details. Still, school leaders insist they’re ready as can be under unprecedented circumstances.

During a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday evening, parents peppered school leaders with questions about how this full time return to the classroom will really work. Some parts of the day will look and feel very different – but other aspects will be good again.

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“It’s easier to see a kid raising a hand than his little soft voice asking for help. That was a struggle,” recalled Malden parent Heidi Smith.

Smith made two different decisions for her two students with different needs. There are really no easy answers – no two students nor families are exactly the same. Everyone’s doing the best they can.

“I’m in the living room working and he’s beside me learning. I hear everything. These teachers are busting themselves this year, going above and beyond,” she said.

And while no solution feels perfect – there are options.

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“Everyone has the opportunity to keep their kids home. It’s what works best. We can’t make that decision for you. We’re still wearing masks and still practicing social distancing. If sending them back feels scary, keep them home,” said school committee member and Malden mother Jennifer Spadafora.

As a result of the state’s decision, MPS will begin in-person instruction, five days per week, for grades K-5 on Monday, April 5. Additionally, students in grades 6-8 will begin in-person learning five days per week on Wednesday, April 28.

In a letter to parents, Malden Superintendent John Oteri wrote:

“…we continue to work to reconfigure classrooms to meet the latest guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and World Health Organization, which calls for maintaining at least 3 feet of distancing between students in schools.

Pool testing is also underway in our schools. This process involves combining test samples from several people and conducting a single laboratory test on the combined pool of samples to detect the virus that causes COVID-19. Pooling is a good way to determine if there is significant spread among our school community while using fewer testing resources.

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Finally, we are working with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents to advocate for prioritized vaccinations for all our educators and staff. We are pleased to share that increasing numbers of our staff already have received their first dose. Giving all staff the opportunity to get vaccinated is a key component to our efforts to reopen our schools safely.”

Juli McDonald