By Beth Germano

WESTFORD (CBS) – Starting Monday, lunchtime at the Abbot Elementary School in Westford will look a lot different. “This is more difficult, more difficult for all of us,” said Superintendent Dr. Everett Olson.

Cafeteria tables are now six feet apart and students won’t be able to face each other. It’s the reality of getting everyone back for in-person learning five days a week as mandated by the state.

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“It’s important for children to get back to their normal routine and school routine, seeing their peers and their teachers,” said Dr. Olson.

With some exceptions, all Massachusetts elementary schools return to in-person learning April 5. The state has granted 58 school districts waivers to start at a later date. Abbot principal Lori McDermott says it was a “big pivot that happened quickly.”

It meant adding desks to classrooms, three feet apart according to state guidelines, sanitizing stations throughout the school, and plenty of scheduling. “Half the grade level will be at recess while half are at lunch. That will allow us to fit all students in the cafeteria in one grade level,” said McDermott.

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The auditorium can be used for overflow, along with tents that have been setup outside, even for mask breaks. Some parents are embracing it. “I feel they’re spaced and wearing masks. It’s good for their mental health to be back in school,” said
parent Lisa Cadger.

“I think we’ll see the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Marcia Thayer.

There is concern about an increase in COVID cases in schools across the state. As of last week, 1,045 in total including 801 students and 244 staff.

Stacey Mulholland teaches only remote students and some will stay that way as parents have the option. “I know there’s a wide variety of reasons, some are coming in and some are staying home and I respect the decision both ways,” she said.

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At Abbot, as they try to cover all the bases, even lunch tables will be assigned in case contact tracing is needed. McDermott says it feels like the first day of school. “For the social and emotional health of students it’s a necessary step,” McDermott said.

Beth Germano