COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Summer vacation is coming to a close for many children in Southeastern North Carolina.
As students prepare to head back to the classroom, WECT is visiting each school district in the Cape Fear and showcasing what each school system is doing to protect students and staff from COVID-19.
Columbus County School Board members made a big change in their back-to-school protocols just days before schools opened for the first day of school on Monday.
On Friday morning, the board unanimously voted to mandate masks for all students, staff and school visitors. Everyone must wear a mask in all indoor areas; however, people will not have to wear masks when they’re outside, eating lunch, or working alone.
Many of the Columbus County’s COVID-19 procedures mirror the policies from the previous school year. It’s a multi-faceted approach the Acme Delco Elementary School principal says worked for them last year.
“We had no COVID situations within the school, period. So I’m not gonna change anything, I’m gonna keep going the way we did last year,” said Principal Kristie H. Leinthall.
Leaders agree 2020 was a difficult year for them, between the pandemic and the district grappling with a cyber attack.
Kindergarten teacher Wendy Daniels says she’s excited for the children to have a fresh start this fall, attending school in person.
Several challenges lie ahead but they’re ones staff have overcome before.
“Last year, we kind of didn’t know what we were doing — it was a ‘feel your way through it’ year, and this year we know,” said Daniels. “Teaching five-year-olds to wear a mask is definitely a challenge. You know, some may end up on the head, on the knee, but every time you practice, you’re gonna show them your expectations and they will rise to those expectations.”
Acme Delco Elementary’s cafeteria and water fountains are closed, and classroom protocols are the same as last year.
There’s hand sanitizer everywhere, required distancing and added protections in classrooms like plexiglass partitions. Children will stay within their “pods,” making it easier for health officials to contact trace, and isolate any student exposed, if someone tests positive for the virus.
“We’re still gonna keep sanitizing, we’re still gonna keep going behind our students and making sure that things are clean. Even doing our playground equipment — fogging the playground equipment, fogging our buses and classrooms, and things like that, so they are going to have a good mixture of sanitation,” said Leinthall.
The principal says they’re using all the tools in their toolbox to accomplish their goal of keeping their students in the building so they can continue to benefit from face-to-face learning.
“We’re gonna have as normal of a school year as possible; but however, we’re gonna have these added things we’re going to do as far as our masking [for] the COVID situation,” said Leinthall. “We know students learn best having a teacher.”
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