Special meeting called to discuss Wake County schools pausing in-person learning amid COVID-19 spike

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020
WCPSS discussing suspending in-person instruction
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The return to all virtual learning, if approved would keep students at home from January 4-15.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County Public School System Board of Education met in a special work session Monday to discuss moving back exclusively to remote-learning.

Board Chairman Keith Sutton told ABC11 that having enough staff at schools has been a concern. That's because as COVID-19 cases rise, more teachers have to quarantine or isolate.

The consideration comes as COVID-19 numbers spike across the state, but also as the FDA authorized Pfizer vaccine has arrived in the state.

A slide shown at Monday's special work session showed that in October, there were about 200 daily absences that required a substitute and WCPSS had a good chance of getting a substitute for a teacher: 80 percent availability.

Now, Wake County Schools has about 500 daily absences and the school district can only get a sub 64 percent of that time.

So, the proposal is to finish the next few days in the current manner and then come back from Christmas break to finish in fully remote instruction.

Superintendent Cathy Moore said Monday afternoon that they can use this time to dig deeper into what's happening and look into why they're not hearing from substitutes.

She said there's overall grave concern among staff

"If this is what happened over Thanksgiving, what is going to be seen after Christmas?" Moore said. "Numbers will continue to go up. We do believe it's not secondary transmission in schools, but it is the impact of the number of people coming into schools. Impact on our ability to do our work."

The return to all virtual learning, if approved would keep students at home from January 4-15. A vote on that could happen Tuesday.

The Wake County Public School board has called for a special work session on Monday to consider a future of fully returning to remote-learning as COVID-19 numbers spike across the state.

COVID-19 cases in WCPSS continue to increase, with a record 80 cases happening in the most recently reported week. Thirty-three of those cases were in students with the other 47 being in staff members.

End-of-course testing and exams will go on as scheduled and athletics will continue to be reevaluated as needed

What are the schools doing currently?

Many Wake County elementary and middle schools are operating on hybrid learning; with parents choosing whether their students should be in-person or remote.

The decisions come as 80 percent of North Carolina counties enter the red and orange zones.

Also happening Monday afternoon, WCPSS board members gathered for a student achievement committee meeting. In a presentation, officials said the pandemic and remote learning have brought on new challenges, and students need more support such as behavioral services and resources.

During a student achievement committee meeting, district leaders said the pandemic and remote learning have brought on the need for more support when staff is already stretched thin.

Officials said the effects of the pandemic will have a lingering effect on student achievement.

"Even when a vaccine comes and things begin to improve, hopefully in the very near future, the reality is and we have to be very transparent about this challenge," said Drew Cook, WCPSS Assistant Superintendent for Academics. "The reality is that this is not a one-year issue. This is going to be a multi-year challenge."

The vaccine is not yet being given to teachers or children. The limited supply is first going to front-line hospital workers and then more at-risk residents.