LONDON, ONT. -- At London’s Westmount Public School, there were plenty of tears as primary students said goodbye to mom and dad, but you couldn’t always see them through the mask.

Five-year-old Carswell Alexander held his mother’s hand tight as the moment approached for his teacher to collect her students.

“We are having a rough time. We’ve been home for so long. It’s now back to school,” Carswell’s mother, Lauren, tells CTV News.

But as the pandemic continues, sending kids back to school was a tough decision for many parents, including Mohammed Daouk.

“At first, yes, but we all need a break right. It’s been a long time and I think they want to go back as well. So, we’re all kind of excited that they get to go back and we’ll see what happens."

And so far, plenty is happening - that is very different from the day schools shut down last March.

Beyond the normal stress of the start of classes, educators and administrators are coping with the protocols of the pandemic.

Westmount Principal Amy Shamoon says classroom sizes at her school have dropped from a range of 20-29 students to 17-24.

“Our facilities has been hard at work ensuring some upgrades, removing some desks that are not needed. There’s more room in the classroom. So, we feel that we have some safe distance between our students."

Westmount P.S. Principal Amy Shamoon
Westmount Public School Principal Amy Shamoon sits on a bench in front of her school in London, Ont. on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Sean Irvine / CTV News)

While parents of younger children worry about them remembering to wear masks, students in senior grades worry about masks being comfortable and fashionable.

“I have to have a mask on this year and I don’t really want it because it’s kind of hard to breathe through it,” states Fajr Elyamani, a Grade 5 student.

Grade 7 student Sophia Colvin is out to ensure her mask matches her outfit each day.

But for her, the biggest worry about the school year was ensuring her friends made it into her cohort of physically-distanced classrooms.

“I’m excited, but also really nervous to not be with my friends. But, I found out I am, so that helps a lot."

Still, beyond the social anxiety, even the youngest students, like Yosef Daouk, seem to realize the reason they’re being asked to social distance.

“Because there’s a virus,” he firmly told CTV News.

Staggered start brings only half of elementary students back Monday

The Thames Valley District School Board, the region's largest, delayed the start of school by one week late August, opting to go for a staggered start for week one.

That means roughly half of all elementary students who opted to return to school will go Monday and Tuesday.

The second wave will begin Wednesday and Thursday, with all students returning on Friday.

The secondary schools will see students return as well to begin their year which will be based on a “quadmester” model.

While students are returning Monday, they are not the first students in the region to return to class.

Last week learning began at London’s two French first-language boards.

The school year officially begins as COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising in Ontario.

Sunday marked the third day in a row in which Ontario saw more than 200 new cases.

Meanwhile in London, a community outbreak was declared by the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) after five Western students tested positive.