SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Students at 16 Catholic schools across Sacramento County went back to class Monday after health officials approved waivers for in-person instruction.

As the sun shone through the haze above St. Philomene School, all the markings of the first day were pretty familiar with the drop off line, obligatory pictures, and good luck hugs.

“I’m excited. He’s excited. He couldn’t wait to get back to school,” parent Erika Godfrey said.

Robert Vogel’s grandson is in second grade at the school.

“For him, it’s fantastic. He’s really missed school and really missed his friends, so, this is really exciting for him,” Vogel said.

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But the differences are also hard to miss this year. They include mandatory masks and signage, temperature and symptom checks at the door, hand-washing stations, and rearranged classrooms to promote social distancing.

“We’re very excited to have our students back in class. You know, we know some students have lost some ground during social distancing, so the opportunity to have them back in class is a chance to get them caught up and on track to graduate this year on pace,” Lincoln Snyder, Superintendent and Director of Schools for the Diocese of Sacramento, said.

Additionally, faculty and staff are now walking students to class instead of parents, and a rigorous cleaning schedule has been implemented. They’re all required steps under waivers granted by Sacramento County Health Officials in order for K-6 Catholic schools to reopen for in-person instruction.

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Parents say this small slice of “normalcy” makes a big difference.

“Just mentally, he needs to be here. It’s that one on one experience. It wasn’t going well at home,” Godfrey said.

While students in the upper grades will continue to learn virtually due to county guidelines, the superintendent says there’s no question that prayers have been answered.

“The students are really good rule followers and the kids get it and know what to do, so we’re very encouraged,” Snyder said.

The Catholic Diocese serves more than 13,000 students. About 3,000 were able to return under the waiver guidelines Monday. Officials say an estimated 10-20% will continue to learn virtually.