Parents, teachers and students had been told to prepare for remote learning for the whole of term two, but Victoria's low coronavirus numbers have prompted a decision to have all children back at school by June 9.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Tuesday morning that foundation, year 1 and year 2 students and year 11 and 12 students will be first back in to the classroom on May 26.
Monday May 25 will be a statewide pupil free day to allow staff to prepare for the childrens' return following the coronavirus shutdown.
Special schools will also resume on May 26, and year 10 students completing VCE subjects will complete those classes at school.
All other year levels will head back to school two weeks later on June 9.
Independent and catholic schools indicated they would also follow the government's plan to get students and teachers back in to the classroom.
Principals and parents welcomed the staggered transition back to school, which allows time to fine-tune new processes and protocols around social distancing and hygiene.
"School will look different than what it would normally look like," said premier Daniel Andrews as he outlined the return to school plan.
"But we are confident we can now move to bring kids to face-to-face learning but in a staggered way."
Schools have been open to vulnerable students and those of essential workers during term two, with parents having to apply each week for permission for their children to attend.
Mount Pleasant Primary School principal Kate Robinson said the staggered start and having only the junior pupils at school during the first two weeks would allow them to fine-tune their practices.
"There will be a certain protocol for those two weeks then we can build on that afterwards in terms of what it will look like when our years three to six come to school," she said.
"Our focus will be on returning to routine, making sure everything starts positively and consolidating our connections," she said.
While admitting that it could be a struggle for parents with children in different year levels, she said it was only for two weeks and was confident her families would cope.
"This has never been done before and it will be a struggle but I think at our school we've got the resources to make sure everyone is supported and we will work closely with our staff and families.
"We went in thinking remote learning could have been all of term two and it hasn't been. We could have been in a very different position if people had not done the right thing."
Black Hill Primary School principal Penny Westlake said schools would consult with staff and look at best practice hygiene and social distancing measures in the coming days to decide what will work for their own school communities.
While some parents had been concerned at prep students missing out on learning valuable skills because they were not in the classroom, Ms Westlake said they had also gained much.
"Preps' minds are like sponges. Their remote learning has been amazing in any case, and in the scheme of things it's only a couple of months in their lives. They've learned other things like gratitude, resilience, mindfulness and they will settle back in.
"Children are very flexible. They adapt to their environment so long as it is controlled and supportive."
Secondary principals welcomed the return for VCE students to help ease their anxiety as they head toward exams.
"It's important that our senior students, especially the year 12s, are prioritised in the short term because they are moving in to high stakes assessments at the end of the year," said Woodmans Hill Secondary College principal Stephan Fields.
"We are making sure we put processes and procedures in place so the school environment is a safe place and students' wellbeing is prioritised ... then we can get back to high quality face to face learning."
Mr Fields said toward the end of term one when coronavirus social distancing was a 'new' concept, the high attendance rate of senior students and their observation of the social distancing requirements showed they took responsibility for their actions.
Mount Clear College principal Lynita Taylor said the number of students attending school in recent weeks had slowly grown as parents went back to work.
"Having two weeks between our VCE students returning and the rest of the students will certainly let us iron out anything that arises and by then we will really know what is happening in the community once restrictions are eased," she said.
Some senior students had been attending school in the past few weeks to use facilities such as the dance studio and band room that were essential to their performing arts studies.
Ms Taylor said schools would also be on the lookout for students needing extra support on their return.
"There will be some students worried and withdrawn," she said. "There will be a mix of how students come back. For some it will have been a quite testing time given the financial situation of some families have changed, or the tension of parents working and trying to get their kids to do learning.
"Some have loved remote learning, some have found it really difficult."
And she predicted some lessons learned over the past six weeks would be beneficial going in to the future - including methods of communication between teachers, students and families.
Monash University education expert Dr Michael Phillips said the return to the classroom did not mean the end of online teaching.
"Online teaching is going to be about for some time as we are likely to experience pockets of infection in schools which will mean some students, teachers or entire schools will likely be back to online teaching while self isolating," he warned.
"We know how to make things work for teachers in a huge range of school settings and we can have our virtual and face-to-face schooling complement one another. We just need a state government who is willing to provide access to much needed resources not only to support teachers but to give our young people the best learning experience we can, particularly when so much else around them is so uncertain."
The return to school for the state's youngest and oldest students on May 26, and everyone else on June 9, will be both comfortingly familiar yet different at the same time.
Over the next two weeks staff at Ballarat schools will work out the best way to implement social distancing and hygiene measures for students, staff and parents across their campuses.
Along with prominent bottles of hand sanitiser and regular reminders about washing hands, children will need to bring their own water bottles because school bubbler taps will be off limits to avoid any potential spread of COVID-19. In many schools recess and lunch breaks will be staggered to reduce the number of children in the yard at any one time with extra teachers need to supervise.
While secondary school children might be better able to monitor their own social distancing than younger students, potential bottlenecks will occur for them between classes when they need to access their lockers and release times from classes could be staggered to minimise the number of students in locker areas.
Canteen operations are also likely to be overhauled, with numbers at canteen windows limited and lunch orders being delivered to classes.
And there will be no assemblies, sports, camps or excursions for Term 2.
Access to most schools will be limited to staff, students and essential visitors, with parents dropping off and picking up their children expected to remain in cars.
Teacher staff rooms will also see changes, with the biggest one the number of people allowed in at one time. Ms Taylor said an extra breakout space would need to be found for staff at Mount Clear because they could not all be inside the current staffroom at recess and lunch times.
Most schools are still consulting with staff about the protocols that will be put in place and have not yet finalised their plans.
Ezra Falla-Traynor can't wait to get back in to the classroom with his friends and teacher at Mount Pleasant Primary School.
Mum Sarah Falla can't wait either.
Ezra and his foundation classmates will be the youngest students back in classrooms after Premier Daniel Andrews announced a staggered return to schooling for Victorian students over the next month.
Ms Falla said Ezra had been excited to start school in February, and was disappointed not to go back for term two.
"He's managed pretty well and it's probably only been this last week where he's really missed his teacher and friends, but we manage it pretty well with a bit of a video chat," she said.
Ms Falla has done her best to keep up a school-like routine for Ezra.
"He loves routine so we've been trying to keep a routine this term.
"We get up and go for a walk or do yoga depending on the weather, then he does his school work, has a fruit break at the time he would have fruit break at school, then some more work.
"In the afternoon I try to do my work and we do a physical activity," she said.
Remote learning has been a juggle for Ms Falla, who works in student welfare at another school and must balance Ezra's learning with her own work.
"I think that proper routine of back to school for both of us will be great," she said.
Ms Falla was full of praise for Mount Pleasant Primary School teachers and the work and support they had provided during remote learning - which could be daunting for parents of prep children anxious about them learning the basics of reading, writing and maths.
"They've given parents the confidence in how to help their kids, even if you don't have that teaching background, which has been wonderful," she said.
"There have been so many different activities."
Ms Falla said Ezra had been happy to do his lessons at home, and particularly enjoyed any chance to get creative in art and other subjects.
"He liked all the subjects - there's nothing he doesn't really enjoy at the moment."
She agrees the staggered return to the classroom will be the safest in the long run, even if it is slightly inconvenient for those with children in different year levels.
"I think it's the right thing to do. It's all been well handled and we have certainly managed the spread pretty well here in Victoria, so I think the staggered start to school is a very good idea."
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