PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – WECT is visiting each district in our area and highlighting what each school system is doing to protect its students and staff from COVID-19.
In Pender County, the first day of school on Monday will be very different from last year.
The last touches like a fresh coat of paint and a final scrubbing of the floors are being put on schools like North Topsail Elementary
Leaders removed the social distancing stickers for cleaning this summer and they wont be making a return, as they aren’t required anymore.
“It’s back to a normal classroom setting, and how you’d see it before COVID hit,” said district spokesman Alex Riley.
Desks are in their usual places, and students are switching classes and moving about the school as they did in years past.
Teachers already have their rooms decorated, and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their students.
“I don’t know what normal is anymore, I don’t know if any of us know what normal is, but I’m excited to have children back,” said teacher Bridget Wortman. “If you think about it, hopefully this will be the first year in three years our children will have a stable August through May school year, 2018 was the flood from Florence and we kind of transitioned back in after that and then we had COVID and again COVID so the children are coming to us with needing advancement that we’ve never seen before.”
While you’ll still see strict cleaning, water fountains roped off, and hand sanitizer stations in place, more areas of each school, like cafeterias, are opening up to students this fall.
Masks are optional in Pender County Schools, per the board’s decision in July, and it’s likely to stay that way, unless something changes on the state level.
It’s one of the top questions the district gets, as well as calls on alternatives to face-to-face learning.
The district planned a new virtual school, called the Pender Innovative Learning Academy, but that option is only available to middle and high schoolers.
On Thursday, the board approved a contract to partner with K12/ Stride Learning Solutions to create a virtual platform for younger students.
They’re important back to school decisions so controversial, leaders say many parents have called asking how to pull their child out of the district all together.
“I encourage you to talk to your school. There are homeschool alternatives, they can un-enroll you,” explained Riley. “Parents, they can always come back and enroll their student after the first semester ends or even during the first semester if they feel more comfortable. We’ll certainly accept a child back into our school buildings, but again it’s just a decision that parents have to make, and we know it’s a tough decision.”
A year full of tough choices as the district hopes for a fall finally free of disruptions from hurricanes or the pandemic.
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