By Christina Hager

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Young friends across Massachusetts were reunited, as elementary school students returned to full-time in-person learning Monday.

“I get to see friends I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Romi Sussman, a second-grader at Morse Elementary in Cambridge, where 80% of students are now back. The school has been in a part-time hybrid model, with many staying remote, since October.

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State officials set April 5th as the deadline for getting students from kindergarten through fifth grade back in class full-time.

Older kids will follow in coming weeks. Students showed up with masks, sitting in desks three feet apart. “More people to play games with,” said Morse Elementary second grader Charlotte Wilson. “It was definitely a calculated risk for us, just like for anyone,” said her father. “But for us, the benefits outweighed the risk.”

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While 58 communities got permission to delay a full-time return, many like Lawrence, did not request a waiver. That had some teachers concerned. “We feel like the state is making a lot of decisions for us here in Lawrence, and we wish we could make them on a local level,” said Mindy Richardson, with the Lawrence Teachers Union.

But UMass Memorial Health Care pediatrician, Dr. Christina Hermos, said the mental health impact on children forced to stay home, is taking a toll. “It’s really time to stop punishing the kids for a disease that they are not the drivers of,” she said.

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“We’ve had to plan very carefully how our students are moving through the building,” said Morse Elementary Principal Chad Leith, who said students have settled into a new safe routine. “We’re very excited about it.”

Christina Hager