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Additional Watauga County Students Return to School Under 3×2 Flex Plan

By Nathan Ham

Students in grades four up through high school seniors are back in the classroom this week as part of Watauga County’s 3×2 Flex Plan returning students to something a little closer to a normal school week.

Initially, students in kindergarten through third grade started back to school during the first full week of October. Now, the additional grades are back in school buildings.

“We are so glad to be able to welcome the rest of our students back to in-person learning. There’s definitely a lot of energy and positivity among our staff and teachers,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools. “It’s been great to see how seriously everyone in our school communities has been taking the appropriate safety precautions that have allowed us to return to schools.”

This is the first time that students in each grade level have been able to return to school since the COVID-19 pandemic first put an end to in-person school attendance on March 13. With the 2×3 Flex Plan, roughly 1,800 students will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays and another 1,800 students will attend school on Thursdays and Fridays. All students will continue their online learning on Wednesday each week while the janitorial staff at each school deep clean the building that day.

Watauga County Schools have launched their own COVID-19 data dashboard to alert the community of new positive coronavirus tests in students and teachers. Last week, three students and two staff members tested positive for the virus. Each day, staff and students will continue to go through screening protocols.

“We want to encourage everyone to continue following the three W’s and be sure to allow plenty of time when you arrive at school in the morning to get through our COVID-19 screening procedures,” Price said.

Overall, the return to the classroom for over 3,600 students has gone as well as you can hope for considering the circumstances.

“This week has gone very smoothly so far and I think it’ll only become more streamlined as we all grow accustomed to the screening and check-in procedures that go so far to keep us all healthy,” says Price.

Other notable changes in the return to school include mask-wearing inside the building, bus transportation, and how meals are served. Buses are traveling the same routes as in the past, however, due to social distancing requirements, the seating capacity on each bus is limited. As for meals, breakfast and lunch are free for students each day, and most K-8 students are eating in their classrooms. High school students are still eating in the cafeteria, however, tables are smaller and more spaced out to follow social distancing guidelines.