Belgrade students returned Wednesday to schools that were shuttered suddenly in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administrators and teachers have been scrambling for weeks to prepare for the first day of school on Aug. 26, establishing new policies and procedures designed to minimize the spread of the virus in schools in hopes that they will not be forced to close again this year.

Early Wednesday morning, Superintendent Godfrey Saunders said the district managed to meet a number of ambitious goals prior to the buzz of opening bells Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon, staff scrambled to make sure hand sanitizer and spray bottles of cleaner were in every classroom. Technicians finished installing air handlers in Quaw school that will ensure proper ventilation necessary to minimize the spread of germs.

Belgrade, like other school districts across the nation, is dealing with nationwide shortages of some supplies. The district is still waiting for the arrival of Plexiglas shields and has ordered more Chromebooks in case they are needed should schools be closed again.

Unlike some districts, though, Belgrade has enough Chromebooks to outfit every student enrolled in remote learning at this time who needed one.

“Anyone who needs one, to the best of my knowledge,” has one,” Saunders said.

At a special meeting of the school board last week, Saunders said the Gallatin City-County Health Department gave the go-ahead for schools to open without Plexiglas shields in place. Health officials told the district that face coverings and hand sanitation are more important than shields for preventing the spread of disease. Per recommendations of the county health department and governor, students will be required to wear masks under most circumstances at school.

At last Thursday’s board meeting, Belgrade’s elementary school principals told the board they and their staffs were scrambling to prepare for the first day. At that point, some teachers were being assigned to different school buildings to join remote instruction teams because enough students had opted for 

remote instruction to reduce the number of in-person classes.

Saunders said 583 Belgrade students enrolled in remote learning to start the year, 200 of them elementary students. The district has about 3,400 students, so about 17 percent are using remote learning.

He said that while delaying the start of school by a few days would have given elementary teachers more time to get their rooms ready, by Wednesday morning everyone was “as ready as we can be.”

Saunders asked parents and the community to be patient as the unconventional school year begins.

“We’re still making adjustments – It’s going to take some give and take from everyone,” he said.

He predicted there undoubtedly will be some glitches, but said the district will be able to quickly identify holes in its game plan and make adjustments to fix them.