Wake County Schools

Safety measures, smiles plentiful on first day back at Wake schools

Posted October 26, 2020 3:31 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2020 6:02 p.m. EDT

— Signs of change were everywhere Monday as students returned to Wake County classrooms for the first time in months.

There were reminders for students to keep masks on, sinks taped off and signs pointing out the appropriate social distance. And in the carpool line, there were plenty of students eager to share how the day went with waiting parents.

Behind their masks, Janya and Janay Ray wore big smiles.

"They were so excited they woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and I was not even ready," their mother, Tricia Ray, said.

About one-third of the students in pre-kindergarten through third grade began in-person learning at 115 schools across the county on Monday, a total of about 8,000 students.

The rest of the youngest students will rotate into their classrooms in the coming weeks. 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.

The families of about half of the 162,000 students registered for Wake County public schools have committed to the Virtual Academy, meaning they'll learn remotely at least through the holidays.

Although Monday's in-person classes represented a small proportion of the district student body, a large amount of work has gone into their return. Chris Cox, principal of Stough Magnet Elementary School on Edwards Mill Road, approached the transition with measured optimism.

"My staff is ready, and our families have been so gracious with us as we navigate remote learning, and now we are going to balance remote learning and in-person learning, and we’re going to do the best we can for the sake of all our kids and families," he said.

"I trust the staff and our district to make sure that we have all the guidelines that we need. We provided those to our families, and we’ve coached our kids from afar to make sure that they’re ready, and now here it comes."

Cox said teachers and staff would coach youngsters to wear their masks at all times.

"With kindness and with empathy, of course, we’re going to make sure that we do the best we can for our staff and our kids," she said.

As the school day ended, Tricia Ray and her children marked a small step along the long road to a new normal.

"I’m just happy to bring them back and start this process, trying to do it one step at a time, so I can get back to work," she said.

Parent Hayli Thornill said her family was prepared to shift back to remote learning should coronavirus be detected in her children's school.

"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 said.

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, conducting contact tracing.

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