The global pandemic has been many things, most of them negative — tragic, costly, divisive, uncertain, interminable, inconvenient, to name a few. But every so often, hope springs forth.

Monday was such a day for students and staff at Monadnock District schools, the region’s first public district to open this fall.

The school year kicked off under the same specter of the pandemic that met last year’s opening day. The emergence of the delta variant and persistent refusal by a significant portion of the populace to vaccinate has driven a surge in COVID cases just in time for teachers, staff and students to return.

The school board voted two weeks ago that masks and social distancing will be required this fall whenever community transmission levels of COVID-19 are moderate or higher — a condition that’s already the case. As with other area districts, they made the call in the face of outspoken groups of parents who feel asking their children to wear masks to protect others is an affront on their right to … something. We’re still not sure what right they feel is being violated.

Before the recent rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, the plan had been, for most school districts, to return to full-time, in-class, non-distanced instruction. The type of thing that’s been compromised for the past 18 months by the pandemic. But we’re not quite there yet.

Nevertheless, the busloads of students, those on foot and dropped off by parents were met Monday by administrators, teachers and staff wielding confetti cannons, balloons and donned in school colors. Better still, the students interviewed by The Sentinel uniformly expressed hope and optimism that the year will unfold positively.

“I’m really excited about learning new stuff,” said Amelia Carlyle, a rising middle-schooler.

Senior Emily Lang of Troy noted: “I’m really looking forward to finally being able to maybe go visit colleges, if they open up, and definitely the prom this year. It was really great last year, and I think that by springtime we’ll finally have everything under control to make it even better.”

“It’s certainly exciting to be back,” added junior Clayton Kulczyk of Richmond.

In Keene Wednesday, Franklin Elementary School Principal Erik Kress was also excited.

“I think outside of the facemasks, it feels like a completely normal year — the excitement this morning, seeing the kids come in,” he said. “... As weird as it sounds, it feels normal.”

The hope, of course, is that the schools remain open, and everyone remains healthy throughout the year. That will largely depend on everyone following the prescribed precautions ad working cooperatively toward that shared goal.

The Monadnock District actually held a “soft opening” for a few days last week, open by appointment for students and their families to familiarize themselves with new COVID-19 protocols. It did the same last year. And despite the good cheer, things won’t exactly be the “normal” school year that topped everyone’s wish list. Students will still have to distance, lunchroom tables will have limited seating and lockers are off-limits, to control hallway crowding.

But after a half-year of learning remotely and a year of hybrid schooling, just the chance to be back among friends provided a definite pick-me-up.

Eighteen months into a global pandemic, that seemed enough.

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