Wake County teachers concerned about reopening schools if COVID-19 numbers remain high

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — While Gov. Roy Cooper has not announced a statewide reopening plan for North Carolina schools, Wake County Schools will likely open under what it calls Plan B – a combination of in-person and remote learning.

Teachers are eager to get back to class, but some say right now they don’t think it’s safe.

Before the pandemic, Jasmine Barcelona greeted students every day at Wilburn Elementary School.

“I want to be able, with my whole heart, be able to say, ‘It’s fine. It’s safe; you’re going to have a fabulous day at school’,” said Barcelona, a literacy coach who is also on the Wake NCAE board of directors. “I can’t say that if the numbers are where they are.”

For some Wake County teachers, the anticipation of a new school year is mixed with anxiety. 

“I miss the interactions with my colleagues and my students, but another part of me is just super worried with how many people I’m going to be exposed to,” said Susan Reynolds, a music teacher at Abbotts Creek Elementary School, and Wake NCAE treasurer.

Others are also worried.

“I don’t want to get sick; I don’t want my family to get sick. I don’t want my students to get sick,” added Nikki King, a high school teacher.

“How do we do what’s good for students and keep ourselves safe and keep our parents safe and our community safe?” asked Kristin Beller, the president of Wake NCAE.  

Beller says it’s not easy to find a balance.  Schools not only provide education, but, for some students, meals and a safe place to spend the day.  

“Are those even worth providing if people come in and get them and it causes them to get ill?” she questioned.  “Will it be worth it if we find out that a parent falls ill and, God forbid, dies?”

If the governor’s plan allows it, Wake County students will attend school in person for a week and then spend two weeks learning remotely. 

“Ideally the best way to teach kids is face-to-face every single day,” said King, “But I know that that’s probably not feasible at this time,” Barcelona said. “Thirty percent of kids coming in and out – I think that’s a great idea because you can social distance, but even though it’s lessening the exposure,  if the state is telling us to go before the numbers align, then they are putting us at risk.”

Some teachers also have concerns about child care for the weeks their children are learning remotely and whether there will be enough substitutes if a teacher has to be quarantined.

The Wake County School Board has said the district may have to switch between plans throughout the year depending on health statistics.

Whether class is in school or online, teachers ask parents for understanding as they focus on both safety and education.

“Be patient with us,” said King. “Know that this is difficult, but our number one priority is teaching your kids.”

Some Wake County teachers with health concerns will be able to teach completely online for the county’s Virtual Academy.  It is not yet clear how those teachers will be selected.

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