There were many smiling faces at Knox Elementary School STEM Academy Monday, as students returned to start the academic year.

Teachers were seen greeting their students, laughing as they talked to them before classes started.

Cherokee County School District welcomed just under 40,000 students, most of them returning in person to classrooms, to start the academic year.

A reported 39,991 students in the school district reported to classrooms or logged on for online learning Monday. The district’s projected enrollment for this fall is 40,938, and expects to see numbers get closer to that number over the next two weeks, CCSD spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby told the Tribune.

Of its nearly 40,000 students, 591 logged on for virtual classes, according to a district enrollment report.

This is the second school year the district’s enrollment has fallen after several years of growth; CCSD’s last official count in March showed an enrollment of 41,159, and in March 2020 enrollment was 42,645. Officials have attributed the decline during the pandemic to parents delaying starting their children in prekindergarten and kindergarten, and some who withdrew their children to homeschool.

In the second school start since the coronavirus pandemic began, CCSD announced in July it would resume “pre-pandemic” operations: field trips, special events with parents, and more. The district is no longer issuing precautionary quarantines for close contacts with a COVID-19 case who do not themselves test positive or show symptoms, but officials have said they will continue enhanced cleaning protocols on school campuses and facilities.

The school district has not required masks and will not do so this semester; though masks will be available for people who request them.

CCSD will continue to report COVID-19 case information on Fridays.

The start of school comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Cherokee County, which has been attributed to the Delta variant of the virus. The school district has not changed any plans, though officials are monitoring the data in schools and in the community, Jacoby said.

“As we did last school year, we will closely monitor the caseload in our community and schools and take appropriate action. We send CCSD information and updates to all employees and parents by email, and messages also are posted on our website,” she said.

Monday also saw the launch of Cherokee Schools’ i-Grad Virtual Academy and a pilot College Career Academy at its ACTIVE Academies Campus, the former Ace Academy at 8871 Knox Bridge Highway in Canton.

Oak Grove Elementary School opened as a STEAM Academy, adding an A for “art” into its name to reflect a focus on science, technology, engineering, art and math. The school is on track for state STEAM certification this spring, according to CCSD’s “First Day Facts”.

The following new principals are leading their schools at CCSD this year: Melinda Roulier at Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy, Caroline Daugherty at Bascomb Elementary School, Michael Santoro at Creekview High School, Christy Rich at Macedonia Elementary School, Erica Morrie at Mountain Road Elementary School, Tia Bryller at Woodstock Middle School, and Andy Hall, administrator at i-Grad Virtual Academy.

Return for updates.

— Reporter Ethan Johnson contributed to this report.

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