The students are back.

Students across the Detroit Lake public school district returned to classes this week with K-5 beginning in-person instruction on Thursday, Sept. 9, while middle and high school students began their academic year on Tuesday.

Emily Sternberg, the new principal of Rossman Elementary in Detroit Lakes, said it was just amazing to see all the kid's smiling faces again.

"I feeling very excited. I think this is going to be a great school year," said Sternberg. "We're just looking forward to a year filled with this building to capacity, as much as we can, and keeping kids here so they can learn and have that best opportunity."

Students exit the school bus and make their way into Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes during the first day of school on Sept. 9, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Students exit the school bus and make their way into Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes during the first day of school on Sept. 9, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

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While in-person classes in Detroit Lakes will begin without a mask requirement, she said, the district is working on plan for any contingency the schools may encounter with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We meet weekly as a COVID team and we assess our situation as a county, as a district, and we have a lot of people involved in that," said Sternberg. "A lot of experts that we lean on for information and we'll make decisions the best we can … as we keep foraging ahead in the school year."

Schools in Albert Lea, Minnesota reinstated a mask mandate for their sixth through 12th-grade students after 42 students tested positive for COVID-19 within the first five days of in-person classes, which forced 290 students to quarantine for their potential exposure, according to MPR.

In August, Minnesota health and education officials urged school districts to enact their own masking requirements and other health precautions due to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 delta variant. Officials cited higher youth transmission rates in other states as their schools began to open throughout the month as the reason for their concern and stressed that younger people are still at risk.

Currently, the Detroit Lakes public school district has pulled back nearly all of the pandemic precautions they followed during the last school year. Students and staff are not required to wear masks indoors, are not mandated to quarantine if they become exposed to the virus through a close-contact and are not required to be socially distant during the school day, during after-school activities, or during team sports.

Even with all the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the new school year, the excitement of the first day was still visible on faces of the students, faculty and parents.

"Really, there is nothing like it," she said. "Every year is a brand new year. It's a brand new opportunity … and we're going to see what is open to us and be ready to embrace all of those challenges, and fun times ahead."

Sternberg is celebrating her 22nd year as an educator and said the first day jitters is something that never goes away.