LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s back to school time for Lakeland students as McKeel Academy opens up its doors. That makes it, one of the first, to do so in the state. It’s a controversial decision as many school districts push back their start date.

A day that is usually full of excitement and energy will also have quite a bit of apprehension as the charter school opens in the middle of a pandemic.

Parents can expect to see a lot of changes due to COVID-19. Teachers at all three campuses get a $250 allowance to provide PPE, and they will spray and wipe down desks often. The school has hired extra cleaning staff as well. Students will be able eat outside for the first time ever.

Some classrooms will have plexiglass separating the teacher from students, and no visitors will be allowed on campus. Only students and staff.

Masks are mandatory not just on buses, but also in classrooms. This proved to be an unpopular decision for some.

“Masks seemed to be the biggest divisive issue, if you will. When we mandated masks on friday we did lose some of those students back to virtual just because their parents are anti-mask or their child can’t wear a mask all day,” said Alan Black, director of schools.

Seventy percent of students will be returning to all three of McKeel Academy campuses. Parents were given the option to have kids return to school or do virtual learning. Thursday is their first day of school as well.

The director of schools said this is unlike any first day of school he’s seen in 31 years as an educator.

“We’re making decisions not about education. Now we’re making it about health and safety and the welfare of our students and staff. Not that we didn’t have those things in mind before, but now they are first and foremost on our minds. So education has kind of taken a back seat,” said Black.

He realizes that all eyes are on McKeel Academy, but his focus is on staying open and protecting students and staff. His biggest concern is what happens off campus. They’re asking parents to keep kids home if they show any symptoms of being sick.