STUART, Fla. — Wednesday marked the first day of school for students in Martin County.
It's a big year for families heading into their second academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education
Martin County Superintendent Dr. John Millay said the district feels ready to make sure students are safe and successful this year, while ensuring that COVID-19 doesn't become a distraction in the classroom.
Vaccines and masks are not mandatory on Martin County Public School campuses, but Millay said the schools are all stocked up with cleaning supplies. Masks will also be available for students and staff.
"100% of our kids can chose to wear them. So if parents want their child to be in a mask, we're going to provide them free of charge," Millay said. "We're going to have cleaning protocols at the school, hand sanitizer, all of those things, and the masks are provided to the students and staff who chose to wear them."
RELATED: WPTV Back To School Guide
Millay is asking parents to stay positive when talking to your children about COVID-19 and the return to school.
"I just remind parents be careful with the conversations and take time to talk to their kids and reassure them they're safe, because they are safe in Martin County schools," Millay said. "We have a great school year planned for them. Our teachers are ready and we're ready to go back."
If a student has to quarantine, Millay said children will be still be able to access course work and lessons to make sure they don't fall behind.
This school year, elementary school students and Indiantown Middle School students will be able to have free snacks and supper in addition to lunch and dinner.
Millay has been on the job for less than a year, but it’s already his second school year touched by the pandemic.
"Pandemic or not, there’s nothing like the joy of a new school year," Millay said.
There are new security measures at many schools, like at Pinewood Elementary School with added perimeter fencing. The district is also waiting to hear on grant money that would boost the nursing staff.
"We’re going to have a district wide registered nurse to help us with COVID concerns, and we’re going to have an additional registered nurse at each of our high schools," Millay said.
Millay said of the schools he visited Wednesday, roughly 20% of the students were wearing masks.
While there are no immediate plans to change the current mask policies here in the district, the superintendent said they will be updating the COVID case numbers twice a day on the district website.”)
"“It’s not over, we never felt we were out of the woods, we know variables are going to change," Millay said.
Millay said any major changes will be based not just on the students, but staff counts.
"To have school, you have to have staff. The adults that take care of our buildings. The adults that teach our students," MIllay said.
The superintendent stressed flexibility for what could be another challenging year.
When asked about the back-and0forth between the governor’s office and recent moves by other school districts to enact some form of mask mandate, he said everyone from the top down is passionate about education.
"We work with the DOE. We’re bound by the law no matter who is in any seat, we follow school law," Millay said.
Millay said the message to his staff on day one is to focus on what you can control, and that learning and student safety are paramount.