RED WING -- Jefferson School opened for the first time in 1919, one year into the Spanish influenza pandemic.

Jefferson reopened Sept. 8, 2020, put back into use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students wearing masks and carrying backpacks tramped into school under the watchful eyes of parents and staff, plus a few neighbors simply there to delight in having a neighborhood school again. The smiles clearly were there below the face coverings.

“Awesome,” one man called out walking by.

“This is great to see,” another said with a wave. Still more stopped to chat with parents and staff.

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“I’m so excited for Jefferson to be open again. It has been a wonderful morning,” said Kim Cory, the school dean.

Staff in bright vests stood at every corner, ensuring children safely crossed the streets. Neighbors noted that the five-way corner where Jefferson, Buchanan, Featherstone and West Sixth Street meet can be tricky. Meanwhile, cars drove around the block, pulled up to the curb and children hopped out. At one point Cory marveled aloud at the seamless drop-off systems.

Small groups of parents stood on the sidewalks chatting long after their children had entered the doors.

“This is how it used to be,” said one woman to a newer Jefferson neighborhood mother.

The pandemic can't stop some school traditions. Adriauna Gustafson poses outside Jefferson School on Sept. 8, 2020, while her mother, Amanda Gustafson, snaps a photo in Red Wing, Minn. Anne Jacobson / RiverTown Multimedia
The pandemic can't stop some school traditions. Adriauna Gustafson poses outside Jefferson School on Sept. 8, 2020, while her mother, Amanda Gustafson, snaps a photo in Red Wing, Minn. Anne Jacobson / RiverTown Multimedia

Red Wing Public Schools put Jefferson back into service to accommodate social distancing and smaller class sizes. It is one of four elementary schools this year, because Twin Bluff Middle School also houses K-6 grades as do Burnside and Sunnyside elementaries. Jefferson is the smallest, with one section each of kindergarten through sixth grade.

Jefferson sat mostly idle after Goodhue County Education District moved its programs in 2015 into the River Bluff Education Center. Red Wing Public Schools used Jefferson for two summers to house administrative offices and middle school transition programming, but otherwise has seen little use, and the district had signed a purchase agreement with a developer. Then the coronavirus arrived.

All public schools closed in mid-March under the order of Gov. Tim Walz, and Tuesday marked a return for the 75-80% of students whose parents elected some form of in-person learning to start the academic year. The other 20-25% selected online learning for at least the first quarter.

“I’m visiting each school today. It’s been a great day knowing our students — regardless of their learning location — are connecting with adults and each other,” Superintendent Karsten Anderson said Tuesday. “We will continue to make adjustments as the year progresses, but we are thankful and excited to be back!”

The Red Wing elementary schools will hold classes Monday-Friday, but only K-4 students have in-person school every day. Students in grades 5 and 6 are in the hybrid model, meaning half of them are in school Monday and Tuesday, all have distance learning on Wednesday and the other half are in school Thursday and Friday. The high school also is hybrid.