Olivia Allen was ready.
New tennies, new backpack, new mask, done-with-the-longest-spring-break-in-history ready.
Lincoln Public Schools opened for business Wednesday morning for the most discussed, debated, controversial first day of school most anybody can remember.
Olivia posed for pictures on her front porch with mom and dad, grabbed her black-and-white-checkered backpack and the three headed to Wysong Elementary School just down the block, many of their neighbors headed the same direction, drawn toward some semblance of normal.
The Allens had gone to Florida over spring break in March and were in the airport on the way home when LPS announced it wouldn’t reopen, joining schools across the nation that began shutting their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus sweeping the globe.
And so Olivia’s life shifted: to a final quarter of remote learning, a summer with virtual dance lessons and remote friend gatherings, and time together, eventually, in the park.
LPS announced in June its plans to reopen, giving families the option of continuing to learn remotely. Officials would minimize risk, they said, by requiring face coverings, pre-screening for symptoms, regular hand and surface sanitizing, and social distancing when possible. As cases spiked in Lincoln, they shifted to staggered schedules for high school students.
Uncertainty reigned. Protests from those who thought it unsafe to open played out on the Capitol steps and at school board meetings. The Lincoln mayor instituted a mask mandate, and cases began to decline. Omaha Public Schools, where cases continued to spike, announced school would begin remotely. LPS stayed the course.
Still, Olivia’s mom, Kelly Allen, checked her phone early Wednesday morning, just to make sure things hadn’t changed.
“It felt like a snow day," she said. "I was checking my phone to make sure we were going."
The preparations for Wednesday changed slightly. Olivia ordered new tennis shoes online and got some new masks in addition to her backpack. The list from her teacher of items parents could donate included specific brands of hand sanitizer, in addition to the Kleenex and dry-erase markers, the glue sticks and baggies.
The open house Monday was a slide-show presentation rather than a gathering at school, but teachers spoke from their classrooms and pulled down their masks to smile at their students.
And Olivia was excited.
On Tuesday night, she set her alarm and charged her Chromebook. She got up at 7 a.m., curled her hair, made herself lunch and ate a bowl of Cheerios. She put on a new black romper with white polka dots, pulled her new tennis shoes out of the box, put them on and headed outside.
On the wide-open entryway at Wysong Elementary, the time-worn traditions played out.
Moms and dads snapped pictures, families and students greeted each other, Olivia found her class and her best friend and lined up.
Everybody wore the new, must-have items of the pandemic: blue masks and green masks and orange masks. Marvel masks and flowered masks and Husker masks. Polka dots and patterns, bold and pastel and camo.
Olivia wasn’t thrilled about wearing one (it fogs up her glasses), but she picked out a pink one that complemented the bright-pink border on her tennis shoes.
Olivia was among the majority of LPS' 42,000 students who opted to come back to school, though more than 8,000 chose to learn remotely, which will begin Monday. Middle and high schools had just sixth and ninth graders in attendance, and upperclassmen will begin Thursday.
Wysong Principal Randy Oltman said teachers worked hard figuring out thousands of details to be ready for Wednesday: recess “zones” where students stay with their class outside, lunch procedures, mask breaks and restroom breaks and how to sanitize their rooms in the middle of the day.
Many students brought water bottles, which they could fill at water stations, though the drinking part of the fountains had been taped off. Teachers had small cups for those without water bottles.
Each class got its own lanyards — color coded to help identify groups, and to clip masks to when students take them off to eat or play outside.
They spent the morning learning the old classroom rules and the new ones: standing an arm’s length apart, squirting on hand sanitizer when they come into the room, keeping their masks on in the lunch room line, going outside or to common areas where they could be 6 feet apart for mask breaks.
Finding ways to keep their distance was one of the hardest tasks, Oltman said. Desks were arranged facing the same direction, as far apart as possible, but not 6 feet and sometimes not 3.
“Lots of little tweaks,” Oltman said. “Some bigger tweaks.”
Kelly and Mark Allen, Olivia’s parents, say they’re comfortable having Olivia back in school, as well as their older daughter, Lillie, who will be a junior at Southeast High School. She's a cheerleader who hopes she'll get to cheer.
Kelly said she’s tried to keep current on the latest news about the virus. She feels the schools have been good about communicating; she thinks their plan is good, and they seem able to adjust and change as necessary.
Her youngest daughter missed the routine of school, seeing her teachers and friends, having a regular schedule.
“I was ready for it to begin,” Kelly said.
Photos: First day of school 2020
Photos: First day of school for Lincoln-area students
Harlow's first day of preschool
Not the way they imagined walking to school
Jaxson's first day of middle school
Back to Back
5th 3rd and 1st grade
Kaleecia 1st grade at Hartley and Malaunie 4th grade at Hartley
First day of kindergarten
First Day 3
First day 4
4th grade and 2nd grade
4th grader at Randolph
First Day 11
First Day 9
First Day 5
First day 6
First day 7
First Day 3
First Day 4
First Day 2
Elle’s First Day of 2nd.
Tony 5th grade at Arnold
Stephen Pleasant age 5 first day of kindergarten
Sisters Cora (5th) and Maya (Kindergarten)
Senior year and 4th grade
Ramsey’s first day of kindergarten
Paisley's first day of first grade
Paige Peters first day of first grade at Kahoa elementary
Nevaeh. 4th grade
Mc 5th grade
Easton (right), and his best buddy, Austin, from across the street
Lijam’s first day of Kindergarten, Wysong Elementary
Kindergarten and fourth grade
Liam kindergarten Belmont
Kale 9th grade Lincoln Southwest and Emery 5th grade at Adams Elementary
Henry 4th grade
Ist day of 4th grade
Hattan’s 1st day of kindergarten
First day of Kindergarten
First day of middle school
First day of 4th grade for Miss Delia
First day of 5th grade
First Day 17
First Day 18
First Day 13
First Day 14
First Day 15
First Day 10
First day of kindergarten at Eastridge
Fifth grade at Arnold
2nd grade 2.jpg
1st grade & kindergarten.jpg
1st and 3rd Grade.jpeg
5th and 2nd grade
3rd & 5th
3rd and 1st grader.... Little brother is pretty excited about this
1st and 5th grades
Eden’s 1st Day of Kindergarten
Eli first grade
Deacon and Aubri 2nd and 3rd
Demetri and amahni
Dylan 2nd grade Roper Elementary
Alice started second grade
Brysens first day of 1st grade
6th grade and 4th grade
Alexis first day of Kindergarten
3rd grade at Kloefkorn - Graham
First day 3.jpg
Blake 5th grade.jpg
Arya and adalynn first day of second grade
5th grade, Belmont
6th grade Mickle
Alexander 1st day Kindergarten Belmont
2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary
Aubrey’s first day of kindergarten
Preston is starting 3rd grade
Savannahs 1st day of 4th grade
Senior in mask
Owen's first day of middle school at Lux
Payton 6th grade at Dawes
12th grade, 6th grade, 5th grade, 3rd grade and kindergarten
Kole 3rd grade
First day of 4th grade and first day of kindergarten
First day of 5th grade
First day of 6th grade at Goodrich Bailee and her puppy King
First day 9
First day 10
First day 11
First day 6
First day 7
First day 8.
First day 4
First day 5
Ellie, 1st grade at Kooser Elementary
Estella. First grade. Everett
Dawes Middle School and north wood elementary
Aydin 6th grade at Culler and Kai 4th grade at Meadow Lane
Besties starting middle school
Alxee (3rd grade) Avery (1st grade)
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