BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Birmingham City Schools elementary and middle school students are back in class after learning virtually for the first nine weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district started in-person learning today for the first time this school year. District superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan said it was important to offer face-to-face instruction once it was safe to do so.

“Particularly for our younger students – our kindergartners and first-graders – learning math, learning how to read, that requires a little bit more attention from the teacher,” he said. “And I think this provides that opportunity for those students.”

District leaders formed a committee that included experts from the Jefferson County Department of Health to create a safety plan for in-person instruction. The procedures involve a blended approach that separates each school’s student body into two groups – one that attends classes in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays; another that does so on Thursdays and Fridays. This approach limits the number of students in the building, which allows for more separation between desks.

“I feel like we did a really good job of putting a plan together to ensure that our staff and our students are safe as we transition to this blended approach,” Sullivan said.

Students and staff members are required to wear masks, and all students have assigned desks to help with contact tracing and determining who should quarantine in the event of an outbreak.

Sullivan said district leaders put their safety plan together after observing the strategies other districts used.

“Just based on that, we saw that the number of cases that were happening within the school was not as large as we initially thought,” Sullivan said. “And with some mitigation efforts, like wearing masks and making that they socially distance each other, making sure their hands are being washed, we’re seeing that we can really do a lot to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

The district’s high school students will return to in-person learning next Monday.