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THIS WEEK: Rocky ready to be first area school to open this school year

First school day to include welcoming ceremony and mask mandates in elementary schools
Credit: WQAD-TV

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois — It's become a tradition to roll out the red carpets for Rock Island students on the first day of school.

And it'll be done again this year but differently.

"We'll be there to welcome our students back," said Rock Island-Milan School Superintendent Dr. Reginald Lawrence.

Dr. Lawrence, members of his staff, and some school board members will help roll out a red carpet to welcome students Monday, August 2, 2021 at Milan's Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

"We're going to have some pom pons, maybe some noise rattlers and what have you but again I won't be able to give the hugs, I won't be able to give the handshakes, but we want everyone to know that getting back to school is so important," said Dr. Lawrence on "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens" as the District prepares to kick off the 2021-2022 school year.

You can hear our entire conversation with School Superintendent Reginald Lawrence on the THE CITIES PODCAST.

Rock Island-Milan Schools will, one again, be the first in our area to open amid growing COVID case numbers and new debate over the need to wear masks.

"Our position in public health is that they should remain masked when they're indoors," said Rock Island County Health Department administrator Nita Ludwig.

They're looking at the numbers...

In the last week of July, COVID-19 case counts are up 55% from a week ago in Scott County and 125% in Rock Island County.

And the rising numbers now has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying both counties as having a "substantial level of transmission of coronavirus" and an increasing number of hospitalizations.

"Make no mistake," warned Ludwig, "with more indoor activities, the virus will spread quickly."

Rock Island Milan's original plan calls for mandatory masks in elementary schools and masks are recommended in junior and senior high school buildings.

Dr, Lawrence says the District, its staff, parents, and students must be flexible.

"Be ready for a change," he said.

"Be fluid.  If we have to change after a week of school and go to a full mask mandate, and that's best for us, then we'll do that.  But for right now we're going to try to stay the course."

Dr. Lawrence said he knows other school superintendents are watching what Rocky does since it's first to open.

Being a guinea pig is a badge of honor of sorts.

"I do look at it as a badge of honor," he said.

"I look at it as we're the first ones to the party, you know the party starts at one o'clock and we get there at one o'clock.  We know everybody is coming to the same party later on."

You can watch "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens" Sunday mornings at 10 on WQAD News 8.