Over 38,000 students return to school on ‘smooth and efficient’ first day of classes

Over 38,000 students returned to Marion County classrooms on Monday in a first day of classes that went “smooth and efficient,” according to a press release from Marion County Public Schools (MCPS).

Although the exact total was closer to 39,000 (38,889), the number of students is expected to reach a peak at 42,861 in the coming weeks. The total represents an increase of 2,189 students over last year’s first day count. Stagger-start kindergarten during the first three days will raise the overall attendance figure which will continue climbing over the next two months for the official state count in October.

While most students made it to class district-wide without incident, some buses were delayed because of normal first-day procedures including longer-than-anticipated pick-up times at new bus stops and drivers placing colored armbands on students for proper identification.

According to the county, transportation issues are a common and expected occurrence during the first days of class. Once drivers become aware of students and students learn bus route numbers, stop times and locations, these types of problems tend to dissipate.

As of 4PM, the district’s transportation hotline (352-671-7050) fielded ­­­­1,036 phone calls, 33 percent lower than last year’s first-day count. The hotline, which operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days, offers help to parents with bus questions and concerns.

Additional district staff will help answer this hotline during the first week of school to better serve callers. The district’s Technology Help Desk answered 242 calls from classroom teachers and other school technology users, matching the exact number as last year’s first day.

Marion Afterschool Programs (MAP), formerly known as Extended Day services, reported attendance of just under 3,000 students, with 30 of 38 sites indicating that they have opened waiting lists. MAP students receive childcare/tutoring services before and after class to assist working parents with their scheduling conflicts.

Middle school administrators kept 114 seventh graders out of class for lacking proof of state-required immunizations, a 35 percent drop from last year’s figure (178). Over the last few months, in-school immunization clinics and targeted telephone reminders to parents have helped reduce that number to the lowest in district history, according to MCPS.

Even with immunization concerns and transportation issues, as well as 10 schools with new principals, district-wide, the first day ran smooth and many administrators indicated that their carline operations went smoother than on any previous opening day.