Worcester Public Schools welcomed back students Monday after what has been a long year and a half for parents of school children.
From remote learning and mask mandates, to a return to classrooms with some public safety precautions, the uncertainty of the pandemic weighed heavily on some families as the new school year began.
For Worcester parent Brandy Mehlhouse, the choices and challenges facing students and their guardians were at times overwhelming.
“Like being out of work, being able to work from home and then not being able to work at all," Mehlhouse explained, "and then the kids going to school at different times when they were able to, or when they could they would get disrupted because someone would be sick.”
As students prepared to return to classrooms, Worcester's School Committee member Tracy O'Connell Novick said the district held forums to try to address parents' concerns, adding that she hopes parents will be patient with school leaders.
Last week, the state announced it would require students older than 4 and all faculty to wear masks inside regardless of vaccination status until at least Oct. 1. Water fountains were turned off inside the buildings, and masks and gloves will be available upon request.
“The only thing I would say to parents is, remember, there's always going to be bumps the first couple of days," O'Connell Novick said. "Make sure we get to a good night's sleep, get a good breakfast if we can. If not, remember, we do breakfast at school. And if there are things that we need to know, make sure you pass them along. But I really hope everybody has a great year.”
O'Connell Novick added she knows parents are anxious, but feels confident the district is prepared to make schools as safe as they can be.
Mehlhouse said she's hopeful.
"I hope these vaccines work and I hope these kids can just be in school, because it's just too much for families to be isolated at home and be compounded with stressor on top of stressor, on top of stressor," she said. "It's just too much."