SAN ANTONIO — In July, the Texas attorney general allowed religious private schools to decide for themselves when to reopen, exempting them from local public health orders.
The ruling allowed St. Pius X Catholic School to welcome students back to campus for the first day of school on Monday. The north east San Antonio campus is among the first schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio to reopen amid the pandemic.
"I'm excited to see all of my friends today, because I haven't seen them in a long time," said Luc Derrington, an 8th grade student.
A lot looks different at the Catholic private school. In following the campus' action plan, students have two learning options to choose from: in-person instruction and virtual instruction. For those choosing to return on campus, typical items such as backpacks are not allowed for the time being.
"I brought a lunchbox, water bottle and that's pretty much it," Derrington said.
In addition to passing a temperature check, students are required to wear a mask. Colored markers on the wall and ceiling point out the social distancing measures out in the halls. In the classroom, desks are spaced six feet apart.
"You don't really have to worry," said Foster Haynes, a 6th grader.
Still some families are concerned. Among the 170 students enrolled at the pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school, only half came back for in-person instruction. The rest of students are logging in from home in the meantime.
"We are making sure that everyone realizes that we can do this safely," said Father Pat O'Brien, school pastor.
O'Brien says the proof is in the action plan. Throughout the summer, the school held numerous town halls to consider all options. In the end, the plan came together with the help from teachers, parents and health experts. The eight-page document includes protocols for all situations that could occur.
“We are prepared. We just hope that if we are the school that ends up with someone who is positive we deal with it well,” O'Brien said.
Now that the plan is in play and the school year starting, prevention remains key. With enhanced cleanings taking place and students carefully tracking their health, school leaders hope the virus will stay away.
"We believe that it's important that the kids are here," O'Brien said.
It’s a belief Derrington and Haynes agree with.
"We are all taking this seriously," said Haynes.
To help with the reintegration process, students will be on an early release schedule the first week of school.