GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Roughly 70,000 students in Guilford County Schools will walk into school classrooms for the first day of the fall semester on Monday.
Parents tell WFMY News 2 their families are experiencing a mix of emotions as in-person learning begins at the third-largest school district in NC, amid ever-rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations blamed on the more infectious delta variant.
"I am very anxious. Overwhelmed," said Melisa Graves, mother of an 11th grader. "I am happy and sad at the same time because I am nervous, but I know my son does best in person."
Graves said she is very concerned about the spreading delta variant, but said her son's need to return to school outweighs that risk.
"He needs to be in school, and that's a risk I am willing to take," Graves said. "We've been reviewing the safety protocols because he is vaccinated. He is a responsible kid, he understands the severity of what we are living in right now."
Another parent, Bernetta Terry, said she is also worried about the pandemic as her 9-year-old and 6-year-old begin the fall semester Monday.
"I hope everybody takes into consideration that COVID is still active, do the right thing, don't send your kids to school sick," Terry said.
Masks and hand sanitizer have become familiar school supplies for both of these families.
"We've been keeping our masks on the whole time, trying to stay away from sick people, we've been doing good. It's the unknown that's the scary part," Terry said.
Graves said she is also on edge about how misinformation about the pandemic might create conflict in the school setting.
"I am teaching him to ignore ignorance, and it's a shame this is a new thing we have to teach going into the school year. Avoid violence, avoid arguments about masks, avoid arguments about chips in vaccines," Graves said.
COVID-19 Policies at Guilford County Schools
Masks are required for students and staff inside school buildings within Guilford County Schools, and the district said it will reevaluate its face-covering rules every 10 weeks. Masks are also mandated on school buses. The rules apply to vaccination and unvaccinated people.
The district points to a report by the ABC Science Collaborative which concluded schools can reopen safely during high COVID community transmission when masking is in place. GCS also said its COVID-19 health and safety protocols are based on guidance developed by NCDHHS.
Bus drivers and school staff will have masks available to give to students without one.
Temperature checks and plexiglass shields have been removed from schools. Water fountains will still be blocked off. Visitors and volunteers are not allowed at Guilford County Schools due to the delta variant. Inside classrooms, students will be seated at least three feet apart.
If a student learns they've been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19, they must quarantine unless they are fully vaccinated, recovered from the virus within the last three months, or both the sick and exposed person were wearing masks.
"Students who are not fully vaccinated after a close contact in a classroom or other school setting if masks were being worn appropriately and consistently by both the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed person do NOT need to quarantine," NCDHHS guidance states. "This is based on updated CDC guidance and studies that have shown extremely low risk of COVID-19 transmission in classroom settings when face masks were being used appropriately by both the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed person, as well as multiple layers of prevention measures in place to prevent transmission in school settings."
The mask-wearing exception does not apply to exposures during extracurricular or athletic activities. It also does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.
Regarding high school athletics, all sports are returning this fall. Masks are not required for outdoor sports, but are mandated for indoor sports.
Free COVID-19 testing will be mandatory for unvaccinated students participating in athletics and marching band, where increased breathing happens, according to Guilford County Schools.
You can view a list of school start times here.
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