MIAMI LAKES, FLA. (WSVN) - Close to 350,000 Miami-Dade County Public School students wrapped up their first day of the new school year with mask mandates and COVID safety protocols in place.

Despite a shortage of bus drivers nationwide, Monday went smoothly across the school district, according to M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

“We have an extremely smooth, very successful first day,” he said.

Carvalho visited several schools throughout the day, including Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami Lakes.

“It is the equivalent of reawakening our sleeping giant into a day of happiness and normalcy and routine that our kids need so much,” he said.

Some seniors said they were excited to come back.

“Just having fun,” one senior said.

“Having fun, being with people, you know; it’s our last year,” said another senior.

“I feel great. I feel so happy that they are going back to school finally,” said one parent.

For some students, it was their first time back in the classroom in close to two years.

“I got to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen in around a year and a half now, so it’s a nice feeling,” said high school senior Olaf Kahane. “I’m in my last year of high school, and it feels like yesterday that I was in my freshman year, so it’s a big portion of high school that’s been spent online.”

“It gives me the opportunity to really connect with them in a way that we weren’t able to connect on Zoom,” said teacher Viviana Bermudez. “That’s what I love about being in the classroom.”

District officials said they were ready to welcome students and staff for the new school year.

“We have systems in place to keep everyone safe,” one school administrator said.

“I saw kids reading, doing mathematics and writing, and that’s exactly what we want them to do,” said Carvalho.

Carvalho spent the weekend touring recently renovated schools ahead of reopening.

He said some changes include ways to stop the virus from spreading.

“New restaurants, new air conditioning systems for ventilation is extremely important in dealing with COVID-19,” Carvalho said.

The district voted to make masks mandatory in schools despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mandating that schools give parents the option.

“The mandatory wearing of masks: I know it is an inconvenience, but it is a necessity considering the explosive nature of COVID-19 transmission in our community,” said Carvalho. “Today is also the day when we stop the controversy about this narrative between Tallahassee and us and we focus on teaching and learning.”

The State Department of Education has threatened to hold back salaries for school boards that disobey the executive order by the governor.

“After 18 months, there was a significant learning loss, there is a significant unfinished learning problem that needs to be addressed and the way to address [it] is by us pivoting away from conversations led by controversy and political statements to teaching and learning acceleration of students towards their full academic potential,” said Carvalho.

M-DCPS officials are expecting communication from the state regarding their mask mandate. School district leaders in Miami-Dade and Broward counties said they have no plans to rescind the mandate despite the threats to their salaries.

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