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WUNC's education coverage is led by reporters Dave Dewitt and Reema Khrais. Dewitt has been with the station since 2003. Khrais is focused on Education Policy Reporting. Browse recent stories here.

Wake School Board Votes To Bring Students Back To Classrooms

A Wake County Public Schools bus.
Brian Batista
A Wake County Public Schools bus.

Students will be returning to classrooms in Wake County next month.

The Wake County Board of Educationa adopted a plan on Tuesday that calls for a tiered reopening, with pre-K through third graders and students with special needs coming back part-time in late October, and then full time in November. Fourth and fifth graders will go in-person on a rotation starting in November, as will middle school students.

High school students will remain remote throughout the first semester.

"I would still prefer to see all the K-3 students into class on October 26 in full," said Roxie Cash, co-Chair of the Wake County School Board. 
Families that signed up for Wake's Virtual Academy will remain online for the entire school year. More than half of the 160,000 students in Wake County are enrolled in the Virtual Academy.
The final vote came after several hours of deliberation. The plan that was finally adopted ran against some of the recommendations from staff, and faces opposition from many educators.

"I think that our community as a whole has really gotten real caught up in the plan," said Kristin Beller, the regional director of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "And the plan is really important, and the plan is part of this, but so are the resources."

Beller and the NCAE want all-remote learning to continue in Wake County. If in-person instruction is mandated, she says more personal protective equipment and cleaning resources are necessary.

A Wake County Schools staff survey conducted before the vote only allowed teachers to express which plan they preferred, and the majority of teachers chose the ones that brought the youngest and fewest number of students back to classrooms.

Teachers aren’t alone in their concerns. In a survey conducted by the Wake County Division of Principals and Assistant Principals, 70 percent of those who responded said an October return wasn’t feasible.   

Beller says the three-week transitional period built into the plan is not enough time, especially since young students would only have one week in school during that transition.

"We have no idea how much interaction our students have had with other kids," Beller said. "We don’t know if they have had practice staying socially distant from other children."

Other large districts are split on returning to in-person instruction. The Durham Public Schools have pushed any return back until after the holidays. Elementary students in Johnston County are scheduled to return full-time next month.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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