Wake County Schools

Application period for Virtual Academy extended as Wake officials weigh possible shift to online instruction

The Wake County Public School System will open a second application window for students interested in enrolling in the district's Virtual Academy, Superintendent Cathy Moore said Friday.

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Joe Fisher
, WRAL multimedia journalist, & Matthew Burns, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor
CARY, N.C. — The Wake County Public School System will open a second application window for students interested in enrolling in the district's Virtual Academy, Superintendent Cathy Moore said Friday.

The move comes as district officials weigh a possible move to online-only instruction to start the new school year next month.

The Wake County school board recently adopted a plan that would divide students into three groups that would rotate through one week of classroom instruction and two weeks of remote learning in order to reduce the number of people in school on a given day and limit the spread of coronavirus.

The district also set up the Virtual Academy to provide online-only instruction for students at high risk from the virus and those uneasy about going to school during the pandemic. The application period for the academy closes Monday afternoon, and about 30 percent of students in the district have already applied.

Moore said a second application period would open after the first one closes, but no dates were provided.

"With hospitalizations and infections increasing during the past two weeks, some of our neighboring districts have recently made the choice to reopen schools under plans that offer online instruction only. We are obviously aware of these decisions," she said in an email to teachers and school district staff.

School board Chairman Keith Sutton said Thursday that a combination of concerns from teachers and parents, including lining up child care during the rotation weeks that students weren't in school, were causing board members to rethink a potential switch to all online classes.

A formal staff recommendation has been made to move online, and the school board plans to discuss and vote on the matter at a Tuesday meeting. Wake County public health officials will attend the meeting to brief members on virus trends in the county.

"We want to be clear that the current discussion anticipates moving to some form of in-person instruction as soon as practical. But as we get closer to opening the 2020-2021 school year, it has become evident that additional time will allow us to ensure that resources are obtained and distributed, necessary health protocols are established and integrated and staff are prepared to fully implement these new procedures," Moore said.

Students accepted into the Virtual Academy will have to remain there for at least the fall semester, regardless of what district officials choose as their overall plan.

Input from teachers "is driving many decisions we are making as we develop plans," Moore said.

"We will continue to be sensitive to the needs of our teachers, staff and parents, even though these needs are not always the same. Health and safety remain our top priority," she added. "There are no easy solutions. Please know that we care about you and we are listening to you. We have been constantly reviewing options as circumstances continue to change and we will continue to do so."

Parents said Friday they just want the district to settle on a plan so they know what to expect when school starts on Aug. 17.

"We’re just trying to figure out, with the new rules, what to do [and] how to do it," said Jared Reed, who has children at Leesville Road Middle School and Pleasant Grove Elementary School.

"If it were up to us, we’d have our kids back in school," Reed said. "We think it’s important they have some in-classroom learning."

“I think it’s hurting the children more not having socialization, the activities," agreed Lynne Knowles. "Health-wise, we have to get back to normal life somehow."

But Teresa Uribe, whose brother attends Athens Drive High School, said she wants the district to stick with online classes, saying she worries about a lack of social distancing in schools.

"You have lunchtime where kids are all together. You have hallways and class transitions," Uribe said. "[Remote learning] may be hard, but we can always count on the teachers to reach out."


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