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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New School Year Filled With Promise

MTThe tallest 11th grader at School No. 702 carrying a bell-ringing first grader on his shoulders at a first-day-of-school ceremony.
As bells across the country rang in the new school year Monday, millions of children dressed in their best and carrying flowers for their teachers rushed to school with a promise of less homework, better fire safety and healthier meals.

In addition to the usual subjects, schoolchildren in at least one town will learn this year how to act if taken hostage or confronted by a violent sex predator.

In Moscow, 15 new schools opened Monday alongside the existing 1,600 educational institutions.

Parents, many with cameras and video cameras, brought their children to school for the first day.

Teachers waited outside holding cards with class numbers, so students could find them.

Students were welcomed back with traditional ceremonies that include the playing of the national anthem and the tallest student in the 11th grade carrying a bell-ringing first grader on his shoulders.

Police officers kept an eye on the outdoor festivities.

For security reasons, some schools chose to hold their ceremonies indoors.

"We feared that it would rain but also, after consulting the parents, we decided to have the ceremony in the conference hall just to be on the safe side," said Tamara Krotova, the principal of School No. 702.

City fathers last week even considered equipping Moscow schools with metal detectors to prevent possible terrorists from entering.

Vladimir Filonov / MT

Fashionably dressed teenage girls hanging out before their morning classes start.

Traffic was restricted Monday in the areas around schools. "During the summer kids tend to forget how dangerous the street is," said Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the city's education committee.

Fire safety was a big issue this summer after devastating blazes killed 50 children in two schools, in Makhachkala and in rural Siberia, in a single week in April.

School principals said they spent much of the summer fighting with fire inspectors and trying to find extra money to meet fire safety regulations.

Despite earlier warnings from fire officials that dozens of schools might have to remain closed come Sept. 1, Deputy Prime Minister Galina Karelova said all of the country's schools opened Monday. Only 10 days before the start of the school year, fire officials said only 60 percent of the country's 72,000 schools were properly equipped.

Karelova said an extra 4 billion rubles was spent to bring schools up to fire safety standards over the past four months, Interfax reported.

In the Moscow region town of Reutov, meanwhile, students at all eight local schools were presented Monday with new dnevniki, the notebooks where their grades are meticulously recorded. The newly designed gradebooks include a section devoted to how to act in emergencies. Students who encounter a violent sex predator are advised to stab him with something sharp so he "feels pain." Those who witness a gangster shootout or are taken hostage are advised not to cry or show any sign of being scared.

A Reutov school principal said local Emergency Situations Ministry officials provided the advice.

"Unfortunately, our children are not aware of how to deal with all the dangers of modern life," said Sergei Yerofeyev, principal of Reutov School No. 1.

Vladimir Filonov / MT

A first grader crying after his mother dropped him off for his first day of classes.

"This is not a way to intimidate students but an extra opportunity to protect them," Yerofeyev said.

Health officials also have come up with a list of "innovations and improvements." New regulations removed popular foods like macaroni with minced meat, known as makarony po-flotski, canned peas and fried eggs from school menus. The regulations, issued by the Health Ministry's State Heath Inspectorate, do not specify which healthier foods will replace them.

The new health regulations also state that students should have lighter loads on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the other two days of the week should be the most busy. The ministry provided no explanation, but the education minister has said students are overworked and should have less homework.

As in years past, President Vladimir Putin and other politicians dropped by schools to wish students good luck. Putin paid a 20-minute visit to the Optics and Electronics College in the Moscow region town of Krasnogorsk, while Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin went to Moscow's Higher School of Economics.

Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- no doubt with an eye on December's parliamentary elections -- posed with schoolchildren and teachers in front of television cameras.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov gave teenage students a lesson, which was broadcast life on city-run TV Center television.

Vladimir Filonov / MT

A ninth-grade teacher holding a card so that students in her new class can find her.

Luzhkov sat behind the teacher's desk, while the students looked too embarrassed by their visitor and the cameras to speak freely.

The average monthly salary at Moscow schools is only 3,000 rubles ($100), and many teachers have to take on extra hours to make ends meet, according to Gavrilov of the education committee. He said the city's schools do not have enough English, Russian, literature and physical education teachers.

Some first graders went to their first classes crying Monday, but many students seemed to be happy to be back in school.

"It is nice to be back and see all my friends," said Lisa Kudryavtseva, an 11-year-old fifth grader.

"But I would rather stay for two more weeks in Turkey. Studying is not that much fun," she added.