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Kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders returned to classrooms in Banks on March 8.

COURTESY PHOTO - BES P.E. teacher Jason Tufts welcomes students back Tuesday morning, March 9, at Banks Elementary School. Kindergarten, first and second-graders returned to school March 8.It's back-to-school in Banks, where kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders are returning to classrooms this week.

Nearly a year to the day since Oregon public schools were ordered to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Banks School District reopened for its youngest students Monday, March 8.

"It was wonderful to see the children's smiling eyes, as their mouths were covered by masks," said Marjorie Salter, principal of Banks Elementary School. "They reported feeling happy and nervous, just like all the teachers and staff members were. Having students return brings a sense of normalcy that we have all been waiting a year for."

COURTESY PHOTO - Banks elementary students file-in to school Tuesday, March 9. The district welcomed back kindergarten, first and second-graders Monday, March 10.For now, Banks students will be at school for half-days only. Like other area school districts, Banks is using a "hybrid instruction" model, under which classroom learning will continue to be supplemented by online lessons and coursework.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will return next Monday, March 15, also for half-days.

All grade levels will return for full-day instruction as of Monday, March 29, according to district officials.

Superintendent Jeff Leo said it was an "exciting day" this Monday, welcoming back the first returning students.

"To have students in-person almost a year after we were ordered to close makes this a great day for the Banks community," he said.

Banks has been providing comprehensive distance learning since late last March, like other school districts in Oregon.

"It has been a long road of many changes over the past year," Leo said. "It has been a difficult time for students and families, and we are happy to be able to offer in-person instruction again."

COURTESY PHOTO - A school bus drops kids off at the front of Banks Elementary School March 9. The district welcomed back kindergarten, first and second-graders to a hybrid model Monday, March 8.Banks school families have been given the option of remaining in comprehensive distance learning, as some parents are still unable or unwilling to send children back to the classroom as COVID-19 continues to circulate in western Washington County and beyond. That is expected to continue through the end of the 2020-21 school year.

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