CYNTHIANA, Ky. (LEX 18) — On Tuesday, Harrison County Schools will be mask-optional starting February 28.
The Harrison County School District was the first in Kentucky to shut down due to COVID-19 back in March 2020.
23 months later, they are back in the classroom, and Harrison County staff and students are currently masking up inside buildings.
"Our current 8th graders were the only group currently in this building that had a normal life," said HCMS Principal Mike McIntire.
McIntire says current 6th graders, between the shutdown, quarantines, and hybrid learning, missed out on crucial educational time in elementary school.
"The pressure on the student and teachers, alike, is off the charts," said McIntire.
While students are currently mandated by the district to mask up, teachers are relieved most are back in person.
"It's probably as close to normal as I have experienced," said 6th-grade teacher Shelby White.
We last visited Ms. White's classroom in November 2020. It was her first year teaching.
Now, she's one of the educators trying to help build on, and sometimes construct, crucial learning building blocks.
"This year, you can really look into their eyes. You can see their assessments, you can see everything they're doing very well," said White.
"McIntire says a big concern, of course, remains staffing numbers. He says just last week, 9 teachers were out, and with a thin substitute pool, it makes things difficult for everyone.
But professionally, and personally, McIntire says this past year was the most difficult.
"Father died of COVID. I had COVID. Gave my wife COVID. Merry Christmas to her," said McIntire. "We've had more deaths this year for students' parents."
To him, the biggest challenge facing educators is helping to return students to socializing comfortably.
"It's heartbreaking. And I just don't know how long it's going to take for them to recover and are there going to be cases where they never recover. That's what I'm concerned about," said McIntire.
But he feels moments of optimism. McIntire says Valentine's Day was the first school event that felt a degree of normal in some time.
"We are working our way back. You know, Valentine's Day just finished up. So you had the boys, and the chocolates, and the stuffed animals, and things of that sort. So middle school love was alive and well for Valentine's Day. And, you might have missed it in years past, but it's almost like, they're coming back. They're coming back," said McIntire.