PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — As students prepare to head back to school, education leaders said students and parents should expect more normalcy this year.

Just a year ago, students and staff were getting ready for a school year with masking, social distancing, or testing requirements.

“The pandemic was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced,” said Beth Crider, regional superintendent for Peoria County Regional Office of Education.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created great challenges, Crider said a lot was learned.

“We learned how to communicate with our stakeholders, to communicate with our parents, adjust education, try some new things,” Crider said.

Those lessons learned are now helping Central Illinois schools step into the 2022-23 academic year with fewer COVID-19 guidelines like masking, or mandated testing.

“I think a lot of schools are looking to do a lot of things that students would typically be used to,” said Mark Jontry, regional superintendent for Regional Office of Education #17.

Despite the easing of restrictions, Crider said that Peoria County health administrator Monica Hendrickson has encouraged schools to continue following best practices.

“There will be signage to remind everyone of those good, safe, healthy practices, wash your hands, keep a safe distance, because if you are sick we will send you home,” Crider said.

In McLean County, Jontry said schools will also encourage some safety efforts.

“I think they’re going to try to continue to keep people spaced as much as possible,” Jontry said.

Crider said there will also be additional challenges this year like addressing the pandemic’s impact on learning.

“You have a lot of new kindergartners and first graders that haven’t had a lot of socialization, so we’re having to pay a lot of attention to that. We’re looking at some stressors, some burnout, some mental health issues for students and staff that we’re having to address,” Crider said.

Jontry said some may have concerns about a COVID resurgence, and schools will rely on what they know to stay safe.

“If and when the time comes that we have to adapt, we’re going to do that to the best of our ability,” Jontry said.

Crider said if your child is sick, it’s important to keep them home.

She said if a student does test positive they will be asked to quarantine for 5 days, and then wear a mask for 5 days as well.

CLICK HERE for the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education’s joint guidance for COVID-19 prevention in schools.