Wake County schools prepare as 8,000+ students set to return for in-person learning starting Monday

COVID-19 and schools

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 8,000 students in the Wake County Public School System will gradually return to in-person learning starting Monday. 

Elementary and K-12 special needs students will be the first to return to school. Wake County school leaders tell CBS 17 they are excited about welcoming students back to the classroom, but also feel anxious. 

“The first day of school is always a little anxious,” said Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore. “I don’t think in my 30 some years in education that I’ve never not been anxious for the first year of school. But this year, it’s different.”

Before entering a school building, students and staffers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re going to ask folks to cooperate with that,” Moore said. “It might take a little getting used to as we start the school year. It is an important, critical, non-negotiable part for entering our buildings.”

Students who fail a health screening or get sick during school, will be sent to a “Care Room,” where they will wait for their parents to come pick them up. 

“We have partnered with a number of doctors and epidemiologists in developing this plan,” said Wake County Public School System Board Chairman Keith Sutton. “And again, we are confident that it will work.”

Masks are required in school and on school grounds. If students refuse to wear masks, they may have to return to virtual learning. 

“There will be attempts to understand what’s going on,” Moore said. “But ultimately, a student who refuses to wear a mask in the building or on the school grounds, would likely be assigned to remote learning.”

School officials gave CBS 17 a tour inside Hortons Creek Elementary in Cary on Friday. There are about 800 students enrolled at the school but the principal said only 40 to 45 students will return for in-person learning. 

Inside the school, there are social distancing markers on the floor, stairways are one way up and one way own. There are also signs that mark capacity limits in classrooms.

“When you think about a school day, and the students come in, every movement if you will, has been planned,” Sutton said.

In classrooms, desks are spaced six feet apart. Students at Hortons Creek Elementary will eat bagged lunches in the cafeteria. Each student will have their own table and eat six feet apart from other students, while facing the same direction. 

Students will have gym and recess, and will also be allowed on the playground, as long as they wash their hands before and after. 

If a student or staff member tests positive, Moore said they will take the advice of the Wake County Health Department.

“Based on contract tracing, any exposures, we will again, proceed with what we are asked to do [by the WCHD], whatever that is folks that are in the building, students or staff that may be asked to quarantine,” Moore said. “If there are no exposures, things will continue as they are. If there is a positive staff and a staff or student has been in the building, there are also cleaning and sanitizing protocols that will need to take place.”

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