After a turbulent summer for Michigan school districts, students finally return to class

The first day of school is here for some, along with the familiar feeling of nerves that accompany every start to the school year.

For students in Oakland and Wayne counties and about half of all K-12 students in Michigan will be kicking off the fall semester wearing a mask.

Even as teachers were finalizing their lesson plans for the upcoming school year, districts were still getting their ducks in a row for COVID-19 safety policies that plan to be enforced in dozens of districts.

While many districts in Oakland County start this week, Wayne County won't see its students go back to class until next week. Health departments for both counties mandated masks in classrooms last week.

Those moves may have ended the debate at school boards, but it likely won't stop the protests from parents. While mask orders were the flashpoint debate between parents and school board members this summer, mandates for them are intended to keep students in class, even if it means wearing an uncomfortable cloth over their face. 

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And until the infection rate falls from the CDC's level of substantial to moderate, those orders will remain in place. For health care officials, masks will help reduce the community spread between students. 

The state Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has used outside research to estimate how long it would take for there to be a greater than 50% chance of transmission if one infectious child attends a class of 25 elementary students. 

With complete masking, it is 120 hours. It drops to 24 hours with imperfect masking and to three hours with no masking. The time until transmission is less for high school students.

RELATED: Over half of all Michigan districts have a mask policy

But the policy also enables administrators to keep their buildings open longer without the risk of quarantining students.

"I am deeply proud of our teachers who are committed and to our administrators to do everything possible to keep kids in school because we know important it is for them to rely on," said Jamii Hitchcock, the superintendent of Oak Park schools. "Not only education but mental health services, medical services, we provide in our school district and just that interpersonal relationship with classmates and teachers."

Returning to school also means striking a chord of normalcy for students desperate to get out of the house. 

"Our kids have been stuck at home. Now they get to come to school, they get to see their friends, they get to go outside for recess, they get to eat lunch, go to music class, art class, they get to live their lives right?" said Emanuel Haley, principal of Pepper Elementary School.