NORTH MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Some Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers are speaking out about safety as more than 350,000 students returned for the first day of school. It was also the first day of fully in-person learning since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told CBS4 that the first day of classes went smoothly. Other than some traffic delays, the school buses were on time. He also said there are actually more teachers on staff than before the pandemic when classes started two years ago.

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The United Teachers of Dade told CBS4 there are 20,000 teachers in Miami-Dade public schools.

Inside her chemistry class at the Mast at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus, teacher Stacey-Ann Spencer told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “We are trying to help kids after a year of chaos. Next week and this week, we will be dong a series of activities that will help transition them back and so everything will not be overwhelming. We are doing on-line digital classes. I would tell students just to relax. We will be fine. Just do what is required and wear masks and practice social distancing. I do love teaching and the students are great.”

Fellow teacher Viviana Bermudez said, “It’s great seeing all these faces after doing Zoom. It gives us an opportunity to connect with them in a way that we were not able to before. That’s what I love about being in the classroom and how they connect to us. Safety is my big concern, keeping each other safe and wearing a mask.”

Student Olaf Kahane agreed.

“I feel safe,” he said. “Everyone is wearing a mask. I feel safe. Luckily I am fully vaccinated. If you can get one, do that.”

Chela Garcia dropped off one of her children for the start of second grade at Ruth K Broad K-8.

She said, “My oldest daughter who’s starting high school, well 10th grade but she hasn’t been in school for a year and half. She’s compared it to having to integrate into society. It’s hard. It is hard.”

Students, teachers, staff and visitors are required to wear masks inside classrooms and on school buses. There are some exceptions that can be granted for medical reasons. There is also heightened cleaning at schools and physical distancing when possible. Personal hygiene and frequent hand washing are encouraged.

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Students can take off their masks while eating and outside for recess or physical education.

Carvalho said there were no more than two or three cases of parents complaining or confronting school officials about their children having to wear face masks. So far he says he has not received any email messages or correspondence from the State Department of Education regarding the mask mandate. He said he still expects to hear from them very soon.

“I have not received any message yet from Tallahassee regarding salaries,” said Carvalho. “With that said, we can now focus 100% on teaching and learning.”

He said there were some bus delays because of traffic but that was not unusual.

“Despite some concerns with the national bus drivers crisis and a shortage across the country, we did not experience that in Miami-Dade,” said Carvalho. “We actually had a smoother transportation day for our first day of school that a typical Miami-Dade school days. There were no signs of delays other than what we deal with normal traffic.”

Carvalho added, “I am thrilled to say that with the first day of school all systems were go and all operations were in effect without anything serious to come up at this point.”

“We are fully staffed in our schools,” he said. “Actually our teaching staff pattern is stronger than pre pandemic, meaning there are fewer vacancies on this first day of school than we had two years ago which is truly remarkable.”

Under new guidelines, entire classroom will not be required to quarantine if a student, teacher of staff member is sick because of the Coronavirus. Only people directly impacted or those in close proximity of someone who is sick will be in quarantine for 10 days.

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Carvalho said he was meeting with the State Health Department on Wednesday about possibly shortening the 10-day quarantine.

Peter D'Oench