PENDLETON — It was the second first day of school at the Pendleton School District.

After months of mostly seeing their students on computer screens, teachers at the district’s K-5 schools welcomed in kids for the first day of in-person instruction on Monday, Feb. 22.

At Sherwood Heights Elementary School, staff laid down tape on the classroom floors to mark social distancing radii and walking space.

Fifth grade teacher Mike Heriza called it his “spiderweb.”

“It’s like the first day of school but I know all of them,” he said.

For all the audial reminders that in-person schools was back — the thrum of student chatter, the authoritative voices of teachers, the rumble of school buses — the visual presentation of the school was a reminder that public education was still making its way through the pandemic.

Classes were about half-empty as individual classes are split between morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate social distancing. The cafeteria will remain closed during mealtimes as students take their lunches in their classrooms. At least at the outset, students are being afforded one recess day per week.

Superintendent Chris Fritsch was on hand at the elementary schools to ensure the first day back ran smoothly.

Fritsch said each school had masks and face shields on hand and would have COVID-19 tests available in March should students or staff start to show symptoms, although he was unsure how many students would opt into the testing program.

Given Pendleton’s recent track record with new COVID-19 cases, Fritsch said it was a good possibility that middle- and high-schoolers would return to in-person classes on March 8 as district administrators finalize how they will divide up classes.

Fritsch said the district’s goal is to still have all students back all day, but it will be difficult unless the state relaxes its social distancing restrictions.

But at least for now, students seemed to be happy to be back in class.

When first grade teacher Deanna Mendel asked how many students were happy to be back in-person, her entire class’ hands shot up before she admitted that she too was excited, and was almost too excited to sleep the night before.

“It was like Christmas Eve,” she said.

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