North Carolina's Back-To-School Week Begins: Expect Late Buses And Joyous Reunions

Aug 23, 2021

Monday is back-to-school day for students across North Carolina, including those in Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Gaston, Lincoln and Catawba counties.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools opens Wednesday.

It's the biggest return to classrooms since the pandemic closed schools in March 2020, with all schools opening for in-person classes five days a week. South Carolina schools opened last week, and some North Carolina charter schools and college-based high schools are already in session. A few districts, including Mooresville Graded Schools, have state permission to open early, but Monday is the first day allowed by districts that have to follow the state's calendar law.

Here are a few things to know.

Drivers Should Expect Traffic Jams

A lot of parents drive their kids to school on the first day, and bus drivers are adjusting to new routes. Plus several new schools are opening around the region. So allow extra time, especially if your commute takes you by a school.

Kids Need Masks On Buses

That's a federal requirement, so even if your district allows them to opt out in classrooms, they'll need a face covering for the bus.

Expect Late Buses

That's par for the course in the first few weeks of school. And several districts are going into the opening week with bus driver vacancies that could drag things out more.

At School, Mask Requirements Vary

As late as last week, school districts were revising their mask requirements in the face of surging community spread. Here's a list we've compiled for the Charlotte region, and here's a statewide list compiled by the North Carolina School Boards Association.

Everyone Gets Free Lunch And Breakfast

This year the federal government is reimbursing schools for all students who eat meals in the cafeteria, not just those from low-income families. It's one of the better side effects of the pandemic, when the federal government started paying for grab-and-go meals to make sure students didn't go hungry.

Don't Send Sick Kids

There won't be symptom checklists and temperature scans at the entrance this year. But district officials say the contagiousness of the delta variant, especially among children, makes it more important than ever to keep children home if they're running a fever or showing other signs of illness.

COVID-19 Will Crop Up

Even if parents and schools do everything right, the level of community spread throughout the state pretty much guarantees there will be some school cases.

The simple explanation of North Carolina's quarantine rules is: When students are exposed, they can stay in school unless they have symptoms if they're vaccinated or if everyone is properly masked. It gets a lot more complicated when masks are options.

You can find the full list of school COVID-19 safety rules here, and you can track the state's list of school clusters here (it's updated on Tuesdays).

Check Districts For Detailed Updates

If you have a child in school, make sure that school has your up-to-date contact information. That way you'll get timely information specific to your school — and the staff can reach you if your child gets sick.

School websites also have information — including COVID-19 tallies once the year gears up. Most districts and many individual schools also offer updates via social media.

Despite It All, Teachers Are Excited

Kids weren't the only ones who got tired of Zoom classes and pandemic disruption.

When CMS took reporters on a tour of the new North Academy of World Languages Friday, fourth-grade teacher Jenny Nelson got teary-eyed when she talked about seeing her students for a meet-the-teacher night.

"You should have seen them yesterday," she said. "I could only see their eyes, but they lit up. We're so excited. So ready for them."

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