SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — One week from Wednesday, nearly 40,000 students in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System will return to the new classroom.

For the first time since 2020, a new school year will start with masks optional for students and staff. But Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett says the last two school years have prepared the district to be ready to pivot and change plans at any moment.

“I will tell you that we are very, very hopeful and planning for a typical school start,” Levett said.

While masks are optional, district officials still encourage people to make up if they choose.

“We want people to be comfortable wearing a mask,” said Ramon Ray, chief human resources officer. “We don’t make judgments based on anybody wearing a mask and we want everyone to be comfortable that wants to wear a mask to wear a mask in public.”

The nursing department is fully-staffed this year and they’re using a new flow chart to guide parents on how to keep their kids healthy. If students test positive for COVID-19, they have to isolate for five days. The district will report out weekly case numbers among students and staff like last year.

“We recognize that the COVID-19 virus is still out there and we are encouraging our families to stay vigilant, to make sure they monitor the health of their students very closely,” said Kurt Hetager, Chief Public Affairs and Administrative Services Officer.

A point of concern for local doctors is rising case numbers and the highly-contagious BA.5 variant.

“We’ve been seeing some of the numbers rising over the last couple weeks and months,” said Dr. Michael Bossak, a pediatric specialist at Memorial Health’s Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital. “It’s not something that we’re avoiding but it’s something that is out there that people need to be aware of and need to protect themselves from.”

Bossak recommends that kids wear masks if they’re exposed to the virus or aren’t vaccinated. He also said if your child has any symptoms of COVID-19—including a runny nose, fever, cough or congestion—to keep them out of school and get them tested.

“It’s also important that people are maintaining their own personal space and keeping their things to themselves,” Bossak said. “Hand sanitizer, cleaning hands, washing hands—those are all important safety tips for anything, but especially at a time when we’re getting ill and there’s a pandemic, we need to keep an eye on those things.”

SCCPSS will hold its Back to School Expo this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Savannah Mall, where families can ask questions about the upcoming school year.