CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools will be back in the classroom Monday as they begin the 2021-22 school year.
Masks, social distancing and a focus on health are back. Those are familiar plans by now, but what may feel strange for most CPS students is, heading back to school truly means back in school for the first time since March 2020.
"Happy to see friends and teachers. After a year of barely even seeing them I'm over it," said CPS student, Hunter Nielsen.
When Nielsen starts sixth grade Monday morning, he'll be among the tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students finally back in a physical classroom every day for the first time since the pandemic began.
CPS is returning fully to in-person learning this fall for all students, except a limited group of kids who qualify as medically fragile.
"I'm excited, ecstatic for my son," said Nielsen's mom, Janet Luszczki.
Luszczki said she is relieved she won't worry about his day and won't be spending thousands of dollars on child care.
"It is a huge burden off my chest," she said.
The 11-year-old said being back in person is a much better way to stay focused in class. That means no more solo music class or struggles in gym.
"I was in a cramped space in my bedroom, I couldn't really do most of the exercises," he said.
His mom said she is confident in the district's safety plans, even though her son is too young to be vaccinated.
"I'm so happy that they said that they're going to require the vaccinations for the personnel at the school, that, along with the masks -- I feel fine. I'm safe, I'm ready," Luszczki said.
But some CPS families may not feel as ready for this reopening.
Dr. Anna Volerman, a University of Chicago pediatrician, believes the city's plan is a good one for where we are in the pandemic.
Those safety measures, including universal masking and three feet of social distancing, will be protecting two of her own children.
"Schools are by far the safest and best places for them to be, both academically, but also socially and emotionally and physically for their health," Volerman said.
Volerman suggests families talk about what school will look like.
"Remind them about wearing their masks regularly. Make sure that their mask fits well, that they know what to do with their mask when they're eating, [and] that they know to replace it when it's dirty or it's wet," she said.
At lunch, kids will be spread between classrooms and the cafeteria.
"I would actually say to minimize talking and moving around," Volerman said.
CPS is also reminding parents:
Volerman also encourages everyone involved, from students to staff, to be on the lookout for symptoms and stresses that parents should make sure kids know to tell them if they feel sick.
"The decisions we make affect other families and others in the city," Volerman said.
To that point, Volerman said that if you're eligible to get vaccinated, that will be the best way to protect your family.
Bus driver shortage to leave some students without ride
On top of implementing the safety plan, Chicago Public Schools said roughly 2,100 students who should be offered a bus ride to school will not have one for the first day of school.
The district said that after finding a fix for shortages, on Friday alone, more than 70 additional drivers resigned -- with companies believing vaccination requirements likely prompted a mass exodus.
CPS said it has reached out by robocalls and emails to families, and is offering $1,000 stipends for the first two weeks of school to those students and kids who face longer routes.