Thousands of students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are still learning online, but as of Monday, every student has the choice of learning in a classroom.
On Monday, the school district opened its doors to 10- through 12th-graders for the first time since last March, when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered public schools statewide to close in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Local students started returning in early October, part of the school district's slow and deliberate plan to get students back in school. Students in 10th through 12th grades were the last wave to return, joining freshmen who came back on Feb. 1.
Principal Carol Montague-Davis of Carver High School said she could have never imagined that it would take nearly a year for students to return to the school.
"I was hoping we'd be home a week," Montague-Davis said, standing in the foyer of the high school. "It was like, 'Wow, we've got to get our kids back.' And it just got longer and longer, and there was a level of anxiety with our parents, our students and our teachers. I never thought we'd be out almost a year, so we know there's a lot of lost learning and we've created plans to address that."
High school students are divided into groups so that students can maintain 6 feet of social distancing as recommended by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At Carver, 234 students will go to class Monday and Tuesday and 216 students will go on Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays across the district are remote, allowing time for the maintenance staff to clean schools and teachers to do small-group work with students.
About 100 students were at Carver on Monday. Montague-Davis expects that number to increase on Tuesday as students adjust to the new schedule. Districtwide, about 60% of the 11,500 10- through 12th-graders are expected to return to the classroom.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus is scheduled to give a COVID-19 update and make a recommendation.
Cooper has given elementary schools the OK to open every day as long as state health protocols are followed. Locally, students from pre-K through third grade go four days a week, and there's a strong possibility that McManus will recommend opening that option to fourth- and fifth-graders.
She indicated as much earlier this month when she said in a statement: “Our plan has always been focused on getting all our students in school, as many days as possible. We know students learn best in person."
Those statements were in response to Cooper asking local school boards to offer an in-person learning option. Most of the school districts in the state are already doing that or have plans to start soon, but a handful remain fully remote.
Shortly after the governor encouraged a return to in-person classes, the state announced that school staff would be moved up the priority list for vaccinations. They are now eligible starting Wednesday.
Oct. 6: Students are back in a few Winston-Salem/Forsyth high schools
Nov. 2: A second wave of students return to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
Jan. 11: More students return to school buildings in WS/FCS