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'A' group of students back in schools Monday
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Burke County Public Schools
‘A’ Day for the Ages

'A' group of students back in schools Monday

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For the first time since March, students were in Burke County Public Schools classrooms Monday.

As the system’s “A” group of students returned for in-person instruction, many aspects of the school experience differed drastically from when the students last were in the classrooms.

All students, teachers, and staff wore masks and followed social distancing guidelines. Desks were placed at least 6 feet apart from each other.

Cheryl Shuffler, BCPS public information officer, said the school system had a “great” first day.

“The process was very smooth,” Shuffler said. “All of the planning that our directors and administrators and schools have done since schools closed back in March has paid off. We knew eventually that this day would come when we would welcome back students.”

The News Herald spoke with local parents about the return.

Mark Vitrone’s daughter is a senior at Freedom High and was set to return for in-person instruction Tuesday.

“I’m concerned for the health of the students, teachers and families,” Mark Vitrone said. “I don’t doubt that the system is doing everything it can, but I think the county needs to compensate the essential workers under its employ better. Teachers have an additional pile of responsibilities now that they are not compensated for.”

Last week, the Associated Press reported a 28-year-old Columbia, S.C. teacher died from COVID-19 on Sept. 7. Demetria “Demi” Bannister, a third-grade teacher at Windsor Elementary School, was diagnosed with the virus on Sept. 4 before succumbing to it three days later.

Bannister was in the school for the week of Aug. 28, a week of teacher workdays before the school year began.

While Vitrone had some reservations about it, other parents were simply relieved to see their kids back in classrooms.

Amelia Denton Elliott’s children go to Heritage Middle and Valdese Elementary. Her oldest child returned to school Monday.

“I’m extremely happy my kids can actually go to school and be around kids and actually talk to their peers and interact with their teachers,” Elliott said.

To ensure the health and safety of students, teachers and staff, students underwent a thorough process of questioning and evaluation.

Brittany Joyce Simpkins has a second-grader at Drexel Elementary who was back in school with the A group Monday.

Simpkins said she and her daughter arrived at the school at 7:25 a.m. and her daughter did not get in the building until 8:15 a.m. The backups are due, in part, to schools having bus riders enter school buildings through a separate location than students who are dropped off.

Additionally, school staff members are approaching individual cars to evaluate students' health.

“(School staff) took her temperature, asked some questions and put something in the dash to let them know she had been screened,” Simpkins said of the process.

Last week, the school system issued a list of the top 10 “things (parents) need to know as students return to in-person learning,” in which it encouraged parents to be understanding about the morning procedures.

“We ask for patience in the mornings as we work through this process,” the school system said in the document.

In all, Shuffler said the day was a success for students throughout the school system.

“Our students did a great job of keeping their masks on, everyone did a great job with social distancing, and our custodians and teachers did an excellent job with keeping our schools and high touch areas sanitized,” Shuffler said Monday. “We continue to thank everyone for their patience and their support and we look forward to having our second group of students in schools on Tuesday.”

The “B” group of students were expected to be in schools on Tuesday.

Johnny Casey is a staff writer and can be reached at jcasey@morganton.com or 828-432-8907. 

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Johnny Casey has been covering education and writing feature stories for The News Herald since Aug. 2019

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