Superintendent Kurt Browning says masks this year are strongly recommended, but no matter if students wear masks or not, he’s glad students are back in the classroom and able to get the social interaction they need.By Casey Albritton

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – On Tuesday, students in Pasco County started their first day back in the classroom.

At Cypress Creek Middle School, students are heading back to a school year like no other. Superintendent Kurt Browning says masks this year are strongly recommended, but no matter if students wear masks or not, he’s glad students are back in the classroom and able to get the social interaction they need.

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“They’re engaged and I think they are ready to get back and get some sense of normalcy,” said Browning.

Parent, Renee Everett, says “Her excitement of just everything slowly trickling back into normalcy, I mean they were ecstatic.”

Bianca Sardinas, another parent says “We’re happy that she is just doing normal 2nd-grader things.”

For many parents and the superintendent of Pasco County Schools, this year’s theme is getting back to “normal.”

“I’m truly happy, I can’t wait to hear about the school year, I can’t wait to hear about their first day,” said Everett.

But a couple of issues have popped up as of the first day.

“We started today with about 100 bus drivers down, we knew that, we communicated with parents last week, please be patient with us,” said Browning.

“I dropped her off at 11:34, I pulled out and there was still a line, and probably seven to ten buses waiting in line still,” said Everett.

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Browning says the district hopes to get the problem fixed by about two to three weeks from now. Another issue is the mask situation in the district.

“Parents are concerned and parents are nervous, some of them angry that they are forced to come back to an environment where masks are not required,” said Browning.

On the other hand, some parents are happy about masks only being optional in Pasco County Schools.

“If you’re masking your kid, that’s how they interact with each other, like facial expressions and seeing what your friends look like,” said Everett.

Browning says the district is social distancing children and making sure everything is sanitized regularly, and as the year begins, parents are anxious to see how it goes.

Evelyn Imbriani, another parent, says “I’m curious to see how the day went with my kids and how things are rolling in the school.”

“We always pray for her health and we tell her always be cautious,” said Sardinas.

Browning says he will keep track of COVID-19 cases and do everything he can to keep children safe this school year.

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Browning reiterated on Tuesday that he does support a mask mandate, but he will not go against the governor’s executive order that parents must be given the option to send their kids to school without masks on.