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Back To School In NC: Keeping COVID-19 Out Of Classrooms

The words 'Back to School In North Carolina: A Statewide Special' over lockers.
Brooke Bust-Webber/WUNC
Public radio stations across the state worked together to examine how schools are adjusting for the new academic year during a pandemic.

Families across North Carolina are preparing to start a new school year in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Most public school students are starting school online, but each school district around the state is doing things a little bit differently under guidelines released by Gov. Roy Cooper in July. Public radio stations from the mountains to the coast came together to examine the myriad complexities of the coming school year. WFAE’s Charlotte Talks host Mike Collins talked to North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson about how districts are planning to educate students in spite of the pandemic.

WUNC’s State of Things host Frank Stasio dug into how the stress of this moment is impacting the mental health of children, families and teachers with Shauna Cooper, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Reporters from WHQR in Wilmington, BPR in Asheville and WFDD in Winston-Salem share how their communities are responding to the new intersecting education and health challenges.

How Are Teachers Coping?

WHQR reporter Rachel Keith talked to some New Hanover County teachers about their fears of returning to the classroom during a pandemic.
Credit Rachel Keith / WHQR
WHQR reporter Rachel Keith talked to some New Hanover County teachers about their fears of returning to the classroom during a pandemic.


WHQR’s Rachel Keith talked to school teachers in New Hanover County about their concerns for the semester.

"This year we'll be like building an airplane, as we're flying it; we have no idea what the school year is going to bring," said elementary school teacher Danielle Smallwood. "Many of us are confused. And I know that we're not the only ones. I know that the administration is confused and trying to make plans that will work."

The Role Of The School Nurse

An empty room with two beds covered with paper.
Credit Creative Commons/
Creative Commons/
The nurse's office at a high school. BPR reporter Helen Chickering talked to school nurses about how their roles will change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Helen Chickering from BPR investigated how the role of the school nurse will change.

"This COVID epidemic is going to absolutely really show how much we need a nurse in every school," said Kim Berry. She oversees the 17 nurses who serve the 23 schools in the Henderson County District.

How Will School Budgets Be Impacted?

Cafeteria tables folded up in a school hallway.
Credit Keri Brown/WFDD
Schools are looking for places to temporarily store furniture, carpet and other items, like these cafeteria tables. WFDD's Keri Brown reported on how the pandemic is hitting school budgets.

WFDD’s Keri Brown analyzed school budgets in rural and urban districts in the western half of the state.

Republican Rep. Jeffrey Elmore co-chairs the House Education Committee. He said it is hard to plan for school funding during the pandemic, given all the unknowns.

"We have to be very specific on seeing how the systems are handling it and what the needs are, and you just basically have to see that after they approach it with their plan and see where the shortcomings are," Elmore said.

What About College Students?

Two people move a tub of belongings from the back of a pick-up truck.
Credit Courtesy of Western Carolina University
Western Carolina University students started moving into their dorms this weekend. BPR reporter Lilly Knoepp explored what the campus is doing to respond to COVID-19.

And Lilly Knoepp from BPR went to the campus of Western Carolina University to find out how officials are planning for the pandemic as students come back to campus.

"It is our expectation at Western Carolina University, that if you are on campus then you will be wearing a face covering or you will be asked to leave. There won't be a hall monitor set up to watch this. We think this will be a self-policing activity," said Mike Beyers, the vice chancellor of administration and finance at WCU.

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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