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Kindergarteners in Tacoma Public Schools back in the classroom for in-person learning

Kindergarteners returned to in-person learning in 35 elementary schools in Tacoma on Tuesday as part of the district's plan to gradually bring students back.

TACOMA, Wash. — Kindergarten students in Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) returned to the classroom on Tuesday for in-person learning, and with increased precautions to protect against the coronavirus.

Parents dropping off their children had to fill out a health survey to be cleared to enter the building.

"You know, I think it's a little stressful for everybody, but this little guy was ready," said Kelcey Bentley, who was dropping off her son Tuesday. "I think the staff and everyone is doing what they can to make sure everyone is safe and healthy." 

TPS started bringing kindergarteners back to the classroom Tuesday at 35 elementary schools as part of the district’s plan to gradually bring more students back into the school building.

"Just the excitement on their faces, to see their children experience school like it should be experienced is pretty rewarding, it's pretty exciting," said Vince Blauser, the principal at Grant Elementary.

The change comes just over a month after Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Health issued updated guidelines for schools, which lowered the threshold for when districts could return to in-person learning. 

RELATED: New guidelines lower the bar for Washington schools to bring students back into classrooms

The district has announced that kindergarteners will only be in the classroom two days a week, but that could be bumped up to four days a week by early February if the COVID-19 numbers stay down. 

Students and teachers do have the option to not attend in-person classes.

While Blauser said many teachers are looking forward to coming back, some educators KING 5 spoke with on Monday pointed out problems in the district's plan. 

Shannon Ergun, president of the city’s Education Association, said there’s no coordination when it comes to COVID-19 prevention protocols, which leaves schools having to make up their own rules.

"Some schools are saying you can take your mask down, take a bite, then put it back up, and others are saying you can remove your mask for the lunch period. Some schools are saying during recess, you’re going to be able to remove your mask, others are saying no. Some are providing for the cleaning of equipment between periods. Some aren’t," said Ergun during an interview Monday.

In a school district that has already seen multiple outbreaks of COVID-19, being on the same page will be critical to keep the virus from spreading. Otherwise, children could quickly become carriers.

"There are unique elements of every building and you can’t just say this is how it’s gonna work everywhere, but we are seeing some issues where I’m not seeing the consistency we need is there as we expand to more kids," said Ergun.

If all goes well with the return of kindergarteners, preschool students will return on Jan. 25, and first and second graders in early February.

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