Wake County Schools

Mask requirement among the many questions as Wake lays out plans for new school year

Posted June 12, 2020 9:02 a.m. EDT
Updated June 12, 2020 3:53 p.m. EDT

— Wake County Public Schools laid out three different plans Friday for students returning in the fall, based on guidance from the state Department of Health and Human Services and feedback from parents and students.

Wake Superintendent Cathy Moore said that although not all parents and students responded favorably to the possibility of face masks being in schools, she expects that they will be part of the new normal.

"We've heard loud and clear from some students and staff for whom face masks are problematic," Moore said.

"We want to make sure that whatever we put in place maintains health and safety but takes care of the needs of the folks that are in our buildings," she said.

Keith Sutton, chairman of the Wake County school board said among the problems with a mask requirement is enforcement.

Wake County has not said whether or not they will require face masks in school if students return to the classroom. It's just one of many questions that leaders are working to answer in the coming weeks to assure parents the school year will be safe.

"Next year will not be normal, we should not try to convince ourselves otherwise," Moore said.

Terra Karol, a teacher and the mother of a rising kindergartner, wonders what the future holds for her students and her child. She said, "Kindergarten is a big year when you are learning what school is supposed to be like, and this isn't what school is supposed to be like."

Plan A: All students in the classroom

The county's first plan, Plan A, is for all students to come back to school with new sanitation procedures and social distancing measures in place. That plan would be in effect only if coronavirus cases in the state start to trend downward. Right now, cases are trending upward.

Plan B: Limited capacity in the classroom

Should cases spike in a "second wave" or worries about the ability to keep all students and staff safe persist, the district would consider limiting classrooms and buses to 50% capacity. Moore said a plan like that would be more expensive, and the district will have to request additional funding.

"We can't just double the capacity of our buses ... so it's going to be very difficult and have additional costs beyond what we have anticipated," she said.

Plan C: Continued remote learning

If cases continue to trend upward, the county will have to continue with online instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, which is Plan C, Moore said.

In feedback, parents have expressed concerns about sending their children back to school. But those parents are also telling the district that virtual learning is not working for them.

"Remote learning cannot replace classroom instruction," Moore said.

For students who did not do well with online learning, the school board is looking into opportunities for "re-learning," she said. The state is also looking at doing additional testing to find out where the learning gaps are.

In all of these three plans, there will be changes, including social distancing and strategies to avoid crowding.

The Department of Health and Human Services created a checklist for schools when they do decide to bring students back in the classroom, which includes guidance on face coverings, social distancing and hygiene.

Gov. Roy Cooper has said a decision would be based on data as of July 1.

To better inform Wake County's decision, the district asked families to fill out a virtual survey asking questions like "how comfortable" families would be sending their children back to school.

The survey asks: "At this time, if you could choose the learning model for your child next year, would you choose?" Parents can choose between the options of: Back in the school building, a blended school/home model, a fully online model, or they aren't sure.

Saturday is also the last day of Wake County School instruction before summer begins and students are free from online school.

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