The Wake County School Board voted to suspend in-person classes when school returns from winter break next year. 

The unanimous vote from the board will shift the first two weeks from in-person instruction to remote learning from January 4 to January 15.

Classes are currently being held in-person at schools countywide. Recent weeks have seen a spike in cases of the virus, leaving many concerned for the safety of students and staff returning to schools. Others worry about the negative effects postponing in-person learning could have on students and their families. 

Superintendent Cathy Moore asked the board to approve the two-week remote learning period, citing staffing concerns. Following the Thanksgiving holiday, schools have seen an increase in teacher absences, and fewer substitutes available to fill in for them, she said. 

“There is a lot of concern, given that this increase has occurred after a holiday break, that we will see the same thing happen [in January],” Moore said. 

Board member Roxie Cash worried schools would not return in full after the proposed two-week remote learning period. 

“This is a hard vote for me,” Cash said. “The hardest thing for me to support this is something that I’m very concerned about that I think we, again, are treating all our schools the same way.”

“Our plans for the second semester are still intact,” Board Chair Keith Sutton responded. “I don’t think this two-week pause has any impact on our plans to move forward with our second semester plans.” 

As of Tuesday, the state has reported more than 446,000 cases of the virus and nearly 5,900 deaths. The positivity rate for those tested has doubled in the last few weeks, reaching nearly 11 percent.

Governor Roy Cooper issued a modified stay-at-home session last week, mandating that folks remain home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.. Most businesses must now close with the curfew and on-site alcohol sales are cut off at 9 p.m. 

Board member Karen Carter was torn on her vote. While taking safety concerns seriously, she also said the board needs to reevaluate “what safety now means,” according to state guidelines. 

“The reality is: staff in our schools are now frontline workers. That is the new reality. That’s it,” Carter said. “So, if you are waiting for the day when it is going to be the ‘normal’ amount of safe to go back into the school, we can’t predict when that date will be.” 

Sutton replied that he didn’t want to “feed a false narrative” that the decision was grounded in health and public safety, but in the system’s ability to maintain staffing levels necessary to operate the schools. 

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