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NBC BAY AREA by Joe Rosato Jr.

A pair of Marin County schools resumed limited classroom teaching Monday, in a pilot project geared toward gradually transitioning back to in-person education. 

The first day of classroom teaching since mid-March was initially aimed at students with special needs. The classes resumed at Marin Community School in San Rafael and San Jose Middle School in Novato with a third school scheduled to open Wednesday.

The Marin County School District said each class will hold a maximum of a dozen students and classrooms will be reconfigured for social distancing. 

“Relationships are everything,” said Marin Community School co-principal Erin Ashley, “and in this time where we’ve been so isolated, students are really excited to come back.”

On Monday, parents dropped off students at Marin Community School where the students were met by an administrator who took their temperature and gave them a medical questionnaire to fill out.  Students and teachers wore masks and frequent hand washing was among the safety precautions in place. 

“As we start with a just handful of students today,” Ashley said, “we’re going to learn what protocols we need to establish.”

Ashley said the facer-to-face classes were essential for special needs students who haven’t adapted as well to online virtual classes.

Special Education teacher Cindy Evans said her class at San Jose Middle School began with three students Monday and will gradually add students throughout the week. She said the students showing up on the first day seemed to quickly ease back into the routine.

“I know the students were very happy to be back,” Evans said. “You could just see it in their eyes and in their whole energy.”

The district has already had experience to draw on in running schools during the time of COVID-19 -- it’s been holding pop-up childcare since March 19 for children of essential workers. District officials said the pilot project was serving as a test-run for summer school classes which will resume in June, which will in-turn help the district assess its needs for returning to full classes in the Fall.

The district said other counties around the state were watching Marin County’s pilot project to look for tips on re-opening their own schools.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to rethink education,” Ashley said, “for us to look at what structures exist that perhaps we don’t want back when we return.”