MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) – Many Alabama students are heading back to class next week for what educators hope to be a more “normal” school year compared to the previous two.

Alabama State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey says this will be the first school year since 2019 that all schools are reopening in person on day one.

Mackey still encourages people to take precautions but doesn’t see the same urgency for COVID measures as last year.

“We don’t see any need for the general public to be masking in schools. I don’t know of anybody that’s requiring that anymore. I think that’s long gone,” Mackey said. “Now, it’s different if a person is positively identified as having COVID, there are certainly rules to have before they can be introduced in the general public again.”

With class back in session, there’s work to do. A 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress report shows Alabama ranks last in math and 46th in reading.

Mackey is hopeful measures like the Literacy and Numeracy Acts will fix that. He says they’ve already seen small improvements in a more recent statewide test this spring: the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program.

Results from the ACAP show the rate of third graders reading proficiently increased by one percent to 78%, still leaving more than one in five reading below grade level.

“We have a new set of standards adopted by the State Board for both literacy and mathematics since I’ve been superintendent, new textbooks for both literacy and mathematics. And we feel like we’re on the right trajectory,” Mackey said.

When it comes to school safety, Mackey says there are about 440 school resource officers in the state, but about 1,600 schools. He says the goal is to have an SRO in every school, but for now, he asks parents to be patient if they notice different protocols with parking or locked doors.

“I wish we could go back to the days when all the school doors were unlocked, and parents could just come and go as they please, but that’s not a part of the society we’re in anymore,” Mackey said. “We have to make sure we keep our school students safe.”

In addition to possible new safety protocols, a new law that, in part, bans classroom discussion involving gender identity and sexual orientation for grades K-5 is now in effect.

Mackey says school administrators he’s talked to don’t have an issue with the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

“They’ve never felt like it was OK for teachers to introduce inappropriate topics that are not developmentally appropriate. We feel pretty good about it, we’ve talked to superintendents about it and don’t think there’ll be any real issues,” Mackey said.

New data on how Alabama test scores stack up to other states will be coming out later this year from the NAEP.