Wake County school leaders discuss reopening bill, teacher vaccinations

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wake County Public School System leaders spoke to the media at Wakefield High School, as they prepare to welcome students back for in-person instruction, starting next week.

"Our teachers are both excited and anxious about the return of students to campus, but we've had adequate time to prepare for the return of students," said Wakefield High Principal Malik Bazzell.

Next week will be the first time Wake County high school students get in-person instruction since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Cathy Moore said they're looking into how they can help teachers get vaccinated when they qualify, starting Feb. 24.

Wake County high school students set to return to classrooms next week for 1st time since start of COVID-19 pandemic

"Whether it is school sites, an educator day or special locations or times, all of those things are being discussed right now and it's going to have to move very quickly in order to make sure that on the very first day, as many educators as possible can get in and get access to that vaccine," said Superintendent Moore.

Vaccine supply is limited and that's something the district has no control over.

"The board contemplating the decision and the recommendation to return to in-person was not predicated upon having a vaccine available and done prior to the return," Superintendent Moore said.

She said a number of staff members have gotten the vaccine because they qualified under Group 1 or 2.

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"While the vaccine is a dimension of returning safely to class, the other things that we've talked about around masking and social distancing are equally as important," Superintendent Moore said. "And those are things that we already practiced prior to the winter break, when we were open successfully then."

Meanwhile, a state bill requiring school districts to provide an in-person learning option is one step closer to reaching Governor Roy Cooper's desk. Board Chair Keith Sutton said if Senate Bill 37 is enacted, they could see an additional 10,000 students in their buildings.

Nearly half of the district's students are enrolled in the Virtual Academy.

"There are parts of legislation that I feel we feel compromise, that safety, to some degree, and I think, again, it is best in the hands of local boards, superintendents, local health directors, health agencies to address those safety needs," Chair Sutton said.

Chair Sutton said it would take time for the district to figure out how to move that many students back into buildings and maintain a safe and operational effort.

"And so we encourage the legislature to slow down a bit on that and give school boards, superintendents, time to adjust to those moves to help us think through those moves, in a thorough and safe way," Chair Sutton said.

Superintendent Moore shared some of her concerns with the bill.

"If the control is not there at the local level, that there will be, potentially, concerns moving forward, if there is a surge, or if the variants cause issues," said Superintendent Moore. "And so I think it would be helpful to continue to maintain that control at the local level within the options that DHHS has already provided."

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Students in pre-K through third grade and special education regional program students in K through 12th grades will go back for daily in-person instruction.

Students in grades 4, 5 and middle and high school students will go back in three-cohort rotations. They'll be in school for a week at a time then spend two weeks learning virtually.
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