Wake County Schools

Wake schools ready back-to-classrooms plans

Posted February 10, 2021 9:13 a.m. EST
Updated February 10, 2021 7:59 p.m. EST

— With less than a week until thousands of Wake County public school students return to classrooms – some for the first time in almost a year – schools are finalizing their plans to keep everyone safe from coronavirus.

Last week, the Wake County Board of Education approved a return to schools beginning Feb. 15. Under the plan, pre-kindergarten through third-grade students return for in-person learning daily, while students in the fourth through 12th grades will be split into three groups that will rotate through one week in the classroom and two weeks online.

District precautions for reopening include daily temperature and symptom checks, mask and face covering requirements, disinfecting supplies in classrooms, altered lunches, hand sanitizing stations and social distancing.

"It’s not going to be school like they know it," said Stephen Mares, principal of Athens Drive Magnet High School in Raleigh.

Hallways in Mares' school are divided into two one-way directions for students and staff to move. Lockers have been zip-tied shut, and bathrooms are limited to two people at a time.

At lunch, students will be separated by 6 feet, and they’ll all face the same direction. Some students will eat in classrooms, while others eat in the cafeteria.

Mares said an outdoor courtyard will let students have a mask break after lunch.

Athens Drive High has about 2,000 students, but about half of them are sticking with the district's Virtual Academy of online classes for the spring semester. Those returning to the school will be split into three cohorts of about 350 students each for the three-week rotation.

Wake County Public School System administrators say 52 percent of the district's 161,000 students will return to class. Only at the middle school level is the number of students in the Virtual Academy higher than those opting for in-person learning.

Most classes at Athens Drive High will have five or fewer students, Mares said, and teachers will have to conduct them simultaneously online and in person.

"I run a two-computer system so, no matter which camera is looking at me, you can always see me,” math teacher Chris Remaley said. "I want to make sure what we are doing in-person is the same thing for those who are plugged in remotely."

Remaley said remote learning has been hard on many students.

"I really feel like we need to get back in-person so we can rebuilding relationships and connecting with kids," he said. "I know it’s important to teach stuff, but I also realize teaching is so much more than just teaching them 2+2=4."

Information from school district websites and social media pages, and from school district representatives reached through email. Search below for your district.

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Kris Lee, whose children attend Apex High School and Apex Middle School, pushed for schools to reopen last fall and is pleased that it's finally happening. Still, she said, some of the modifications schools made to resume classes are too strict.

"There’s just a lot of rules to the point that I think are unhealthy," Lee said. "Our kids are not robots. They are human beings with human social and emotional needs."

Maggie Howard, a sophomore at Sanderson High School, said she's excited to get back to school.

"I think high schoolers can be smarter than people give them credit for, and I think we’re all excited enough to go back that we’re going to follow precautions and not want to mess anything up," she said.

Maggie said she got so lonely during her 11 months of remote learning that she wrote a song about the ordeal that brought her mother to tears.

"Going through this has really opened my eyes to how much we really need to be around other people," Maggie said. "I love my family but being trapped with them for a good amount of time was difficult."

Maggie has done well academically during remote learning, said her mother, Mandy Howard, but the months out of school have been hard emotionally.

"It’s been hard for her to be able to talk about classes and what she misses with us because we are also stressed and she doesn’t want to place that guilt or that stress on to us. So, she holds even more in then she lets us know about," Howard said.

She said she's ready for her daughter to return to school.

"It’s worth taking this risk for our community," she said.

Modified and year-round calendar schools will reopen Feb. 15, and traditional calendar schools will reopen Feb. 17, following a teacher work day.

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