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Boston Public Schools welcomed students in prekindergarten through third grade back for in-person instruction on Monday, marking another step in the city’s phased plan to get students back into classrooms.

Speaking at a press conference at City Hall Monday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh thanked everyone who has helped bring students back: teachers, administrators, parents, and other school staff members, including custodians, food service workers, and bus drivers.

He said he knows the past several months have been difficult for parents and teachers, especially.

“I know it’s been challenging,” he said. “It’s been challenging to quite honestly everyone.”

Students are eligible for two days of in-person instruction each week, with one group of students attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group attending on Thursdays and Fridays. All students participate in remote learning on Wednesdays so buildings can be cleaned and sanitized between the student groups.

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All families have the option to keep their children in fully remote learning.

Students in older grades are slated to return to in-person learning later this month, with fourth- through eighth-graders beginning on March 15 and 18 and high schoolers beginning on March 29 and April 1.

A Boston Public Schools spokesman did not respond Monday to a question about how many students are returning to in-person classes this week.

With more students returning to school buildings, Boston also plans to participate in the state’s pool testing program, which is launching in more than 900 schools across the state. The testing plan, which is paid for by the state through mid-April, will allow districts to test students and staff members for the coronavirus weekly.

Pool testing is an approach in which several people’s test samples are bundled and tested as just a single sample. When the bundle comes back positive for the coronavirus, the entire group is retested individually to determine who is positive for the virus. When the bundle comes back negative, everyone in the group is considered negative for the virus.

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Walsh said the program is “a good system for preventing the spread of the virus.”

“As we move forward, we’re going to take every opportunity we can to keep our school community safe and open,” he said.

Asked about social distancing in classrooms, the city’s Health and Human Services chief Marty Martinez said the health commission and school district have worked together to ensure there’s space between desks and that teachers have barriers to protect them when they are close to students.

“It takes some real work,” he said. “Some of our buildings are smaller. Some of them are larger. But again, we have the capacity based on sort of the formula that we’ve worked through with BPS to ensure that students can socially distance. It’s not just about the physical space, but it’s also about doing everything we can for young ones to stay separated, which is part of the challenge.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.