Wake County Schools

Safety top of mind as 8,000 Wake students return to classrooms

Prekindergarten through third grade students will be back for in-person learning for the first time in over seven months.

Posted Updated

Sloane Heffernan
, WRAL reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — WRAL News got a look inside one Raleigh elementary school on Monday as more than 8,000 students in the Wake County Public School System returned to 115 schools for in-person learning.

Pre-kindergarten through third-graders in Wake County returned to school on Monday for their first day of in-person classes since March. Sixth- through eighth-graders will return on Nov. 9, and fourth- and fifth-graders return on Nov. 16. High school students will stay in virtual learning for the semester.

For perspective, only 8,000 of the district's 162,000 students returned to school Monday. Even when other grades return, about half of all Wake County Public School students will remain in virtual learning by choice.

From the moment families arrive on campus, they’ll find signs reminding children to stay home if they’re sick and even social distance markers on the ground. Classrooms will be only one-third full, and desks will be spaced apart. Everyone must wear masks on school grounds.

At Stough Magnet Elementary School on Edwards Mill Road, which was renovated this year, staff said the school day on Monday has been a success so far.

"I trust the staff in our district to make sure that we have all the guidelines that we need," said Chris Cox, principal of Stough Elementary School. "We provided those to our family and we’ve coached our kids from a far to make sure that they’re ready. The trial is over and now it’s time to actually do school as we hope it can be."

If parents are not comfortable sending their child back to school and have not yet signed up for the Virtual Academy, they still can do so.
School leaders said the learning environment will be different. Students will take part in daily health screenings, sit in small classes and are required to wear masks.

The district is advising parents to:

Wake parent Hayli Thornill said she's hoping for the best.

Her kindergartner and second-grader will be at in-person classes on Monday. She said that in-person learning is valuable, but the thought of schools dealing with coronavirus has crossed her mind.

"I am a bit concerned about that, but if that happens, I think we'll just have to roll with it like we have everything else," she added.

"We've had so many conversations like, 'Don't touch everything. Don't put your hands in your mouth. Give people their space," said Barrow.

On Friday, Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore said schools will handle any positive cases by shutting down the affected portions of buildings and, if needed, contact tracing.

Young children are less likely to spread COVID-19 or become seriously ill, officials said, which is the reason the school systems started returning younger children to classrooms first.

On the school bus

School buses will also be at only one-third capacity, and kids must sit alone in each seat unless they are siblings. Everyone must wear a mask, and parents of bus riders should fill out an attestation form for kids to bring.


At some schools, students will eat their lunch in classrooms. At schools with larger cafeterias, students will eat spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Students can remove their masks only to eat.


Schools that offer recess will continue to allow free time outdoors. Everyone must wear masks and maintain social distancing.


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