On Tuesday, the Wake County School Board plans to vote on if schools will reopen for in-person classes in January after staff recommended starting the year with remote learning due to an anticipated holiday spike in cases of the virus. 

Classes are currently being held in-person, a controversial decision that drew criticism from some parents and teachers worried returning to school amid the ongoing pandemic was unsafe. Following winter recess, students are currently scheduled to return to campus on January 4 for the last week of the first semester. 

School administration cited staff shortages as one reason for shifting to remote lessons. 

“While remote instruction is far from ideal for many children, returning to remote after the winter break becomes really a prudent measure to make sure we do not need to abruptly change the plans later on when the data comes in after the winter break,” Superintendent Cathy Moore told the board Monday during an informational meeting. 

Wake isn’t the first district to consider shuttering schools in the new year. School boards in the greater Charlotte metro area and Johnston County have already made the call to shift to remote learning.

Wake County is currently characterized as in the “orange” zone with substantial community spread. So far, the state has seen more than 440,000 cases of the virus and 5,855 people have died. On Monday, 4,770 new cases of the virus were reported and 2,553 people remain hospitalized. 

Last week, Governor Roy Cooper implemented a modified stay-at-home order in response to the uptick in cases. The new order requires that residents stay home after 10 p.m. and mandates that bars and restaurants close at that time. On-site alcohol sales must cease after 9 p.m.. 

While Wake County hasn’t experienced any significant COVID clusters in its public schools yet, there has been a surge in staff members needing to quarantine, leading to a shortage of substitute teachers available to cover for them.

The new plan would shift all grade levels to remote learning from January 4 to January 15. Because the first semester does not end until mid-January, that would mean students must finish the semester online. 

“I think that’s certainly a prudent recommendation, one that puts us in more of a proactive, than I think a reactive state, in looking at what we may be able to anticipate in a holiday surge, if you will, given what we’ve seen,” Board Chair Keith Sutton said during the meeting. 

The school board is expected to vote on the matter during its Tuesday night meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. You’ll be able to stream the meeting live here.

Follow Interim Editor-in-Chief Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com

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