The Janesville School District is preparing for a first day of school like no other.

As they enter their respective schools Sept. 1, many students will wear wide smiles, and teachers will share their excitement after a long wait to see the kids.

But their expressions will be shielded by masks, and they will have to wash their hands frequently. Some students might reach out to hug friends or teachers they haven’t seen in months before remembering they aren’t allowed to be so close during a pandemic.

Despite those changes, Superintendent Steve Pophal said this year’s first day of school will be more exciting because the novel coronavirus closed schools for the final months of the 2019-20 school year.

“The first day of school is like Christmas morning for me,” he said. “It’s absolutely one of my favorite days of the year to see the excitement on the kids’ faces, and this year will be uniquely special in that regard based on what’s happened the last six months.”

All students, including those who signed up for virtual learning, will start school Sept. 1. However, it will not be a traditional first day for those learning in person and through the hybrid model. Regular instruction will not be offered.

Instead, elementary schools will hold family conferences. Families will meet their children’s teachers, tour their classrooms and drop off school supplies.

Middle school families will set up meetings with a teacher to set goals for the school year.

At the high school level, only freshmen will report Sept. 1 for orientation, where they will learn about the building and preparing for high school.

All students receiving in-person instruction will report to school Sept. 2. Unlike previous years, there will be no staggered start for kindergarten students; all kindergartners should report to school Sept. 2.

More information about the return to school will be shared with parents by their children’s schools in coming weeks.

District officials still were waiting for about 3,000 students to register for school as of Tuesday.

Pophal said while the 2020-21 school year will look different, he hopes it’s the start of a productive year.

“The district wants everyone to know that while we had to put different protocols in place to make it as safe as possible and to ensure kids can learn, albeit from a lot of different places, we continue to love kids as much as we always did,” he said.

“We look forward to welcoming them with open arms—albeit sometimes virtual open arms—so that we can continue building the strong relationships that we’ve always had with our kids and families.”