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With COVID-19 cases rising, one NC school district will consider a remote start to the semester

Kate Medley
for WUNC

Many K-12 students are heading back to school this week, as COVID-19 cases reach a new all-time high in North Carolina.

Most school districts are set to start in-person and on-schedule this week, except for schools that closed Monday for bad weather.

Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, Orange County Schools and some Guilford County public schools closed Monday due to a severe thunderstorm and are now set to begin Tuesday. Wake County Schools began classes Monday despite the storms. Durham Public Schools is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Cumberland County Schools is the only large school district in WUNC’s listening area that is poised to possibly start the semester virtually due to the surge in COVID-19 spread. The district shifted two staff workdays on Monday and Tuesday to virtual for most employees.

The Cumberland County school board will meet Tuesday morning to consider shifting classes to virtual instruction for the first three days of the semester, Jan. 5, 6 and 7.

“No decision has been made yet,” Cumberland County Schools spokesman Lindsay Whitley said Monday. “It’s not a done deal, but we wanted to alert parents that it is a consideration.”

A state law passed in August allows school boards to temporarily shift their district or individual schools to remote instruction if COVID-19 cases result in insufficient staff or a significant number of student quarantines.

Whitley said Cumberland County School administrators considered the current case rates in the county and the number of school employees calling in sick before calling a special board meeting. The school district is conducting a staff survey Monday to assess potential staff shortages. Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. will make a recommendation at the board meeting based on the information gathered.

According to a document the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction shared with media and schools on how to follow the new state law, there is no specific limit on how many days a school may remain virtual for a COVID-19 emergency, unlike other emergency related virtual days for severe weather or power outages. However, the law says the shift should be temporary and school leaders must report changes in instruction to DPI.

A DPI spokeswoman said no school districts in the state have yet reported a shift in instruction for this semester.

To protect against COVID-19 outbreaks, most school districts require indoor masking and many offer regular COVID-19 testing to students through a program offered by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Wake County Schools announced last week it would expand its testing program to all its schools. All schools require masking on buses under federal law and enforce CDC recommended quarantines and isolation periods.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.