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New Jersey students eagerly head back to school after year of COVID restrictions, Ida damage

New Jersey students return to classrooms
New Jersey students return to classrooms 02:03

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was back-to-school Tuesday for many students in New Jersey. 

For the most part, COVID restrictions have been lifted. But not in Newark, where the state's largest school district will still require face masks. 

"During the course of the summer, we had 33 students positive, 97 employees positive. So we know that, obviously, the pandemic, while it has been more behind us than ahead of us, that it's still negatively impacting students," Superintendent Dr. Roger Leon told CBS2. 

A decision will be made later during the school year whether to keep masking. 

Meanwhile, a teacher shortage continues to be an issue across the country, as well as in Newark.

"We have about 80 vacancies at the start of the school year, and looking very aggressively to filling them," Leon said. 

Newark schools ready to welcome students back 05:59

CBS2's Natalie Duddridge spoke with students arriving for the first day with umbrellas in tow.

"It was really hard to go to sleep, because I was so excited to come to school the next day," eighth grader Mazyck Thomas said. 

Dozens of students showed up early to Quitman Community School to get a head start. 

"We're in the eighth grade now, going to be really hard," Thomas said. 

The staff was just as excited as the students. 

"I feel like a child. We get up in the morning excited and jittery, because this is my first day," said ELA teacher Felicia Kemp. 

"We are ready to receive all of our 700 scholars here this morning. The teachers eagerly await them," Principal Dr. Courtney Johnson said. 

In Cresskill, Bergen County, a middle and high school damaged by Ida was finally ready to welcome back 1,000 students. 

"To see the actual teachers again in the rooms, and to see the school again," said one ninth grader name Nikias.

"Ever since the flooding, the pandemic, we couldn't have a normal day of school," 11th grader Alfonso Pina said.

"Seeing all of the teachers sitting in the cafeteria ... a gym, you know, a normal school experience," another student said.

"I'm so relieved that they got it together and they could open on the first day. I'm so excited the kids are back," parent Christine Berkowitz said. 

School administrators say the school was built in a flood zone back in 1962, but water never came into the building until last year. 

"The water came crashing down. We had two to three feet of water," Superintendent Michael Burke said. "It's a big event. The students have not been back in this building fully since March 13, 2020. We battled COVID, we battled the flood, we've been in three different locations."

Back in Newark, the superintendent said this year's enrollment is the highest in decades, with 38,000 students returning Tuesday. So expect the streets surrounding schools to be very busy during pickup time. 

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