New year, new classrooms, new dress codes and bus schedules ::

Where has the summer gone? Hundreds of thousands of students return to traditional calendar schools Monday in districts across North Carolina.

Wake County by the numbers

Wake County is the largest district in the state, serving 159,000 students and operating 198 schools. Two new schools are opening this year, Apex Friendship Elementary and Barton’s Pond Elementary on Strickland Road in Raleigh. The carpool line opens at 8:45 am, and school starts at 9:15 am

Both schools will help with overcrowding in growing areas, but as students arrive on campus for the first time, there is still a need for teachers.

Wake County Public Schools is short about 400 teachers. As a result, the school system is now recruiting new teachers before they graduate from high school.

The Future Teachers Program provides students training while they’re in college with a job offer waiting for them when they graduate. Right now, 50 teachers at Wake County Public Schools are graduates of the program.

Wake County has more than 20,000 employees, including 11,000 teachers.

Wake County operates 584 yellow school bus routes, a reduction of 52 routes from the 2021-22 school year, and 380 contract routes for special needs students.

Changes in Durham: dress code, bell schedule, smart buses

A new bell schedule was approved by the Durham Public Schools, creating earlier start times for most elementary schools. Openings will be set at 7:45 am (elementary schools), 8:30 am (middle schools) and 9:15 am (high schools).

A brand new school is also opening Monday in south Durham. Classes begin for 400 students at Lyons Farm Elementary at 7:45 am

More big changes are in place at DPS, including a new, more inclusive dress code that allows halter tops and other clothing. Students still cannot wear clothing with profanity or violence.

The new code would instruct staff to discuss any violations with another adult present and prohibit speaking about that violation in front of other students.

DPS is focusing on transportation safety and efficiency by rolling out new smart buses. All 200 of their buses are now equipped with tablets to improve communication with parents and students.

Drivers will make sure all students are on the right bus using provided rider lists, navigation assistance and push notifications about routes and detours.

School bus driver shortages mean longer routes

Schools in Wake County and across the state are dealing with a shortage of school bus drivers, which may cause some delays. For the 2022-23 school year, Wake County has redrawn bus routes to accommodate for fewer drivers while still providing a route for every student who wants to ride the bus. That means routes will be longer and buses will be at capacity.

School bus

An increase in “double-back” routes that allow drivers to do multiple routes in one morning or afternoon, will also mean some students will arrive at school earlier than they did last year and leave later than they did last year, by as many as 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes, Superintendent Cathy Moore said.

At 8 am, WRAL News counted 13 routes uncovered in Wake County and about four delays:

  • Forest Pines Dr – 1 route uncovered
  • East Wake/Zebulon ES/MS – 5 no drivers/uncovered routes
  • Millbrook – 2 no drivers, 1 behind schedule
  • Pine hollow MS/ Leesville Rd HS, Pleasant Grove ES – 4 no driver/route uncovered, 1 behind schedule
  • Wakefield HS/MS – 1 behind schedule
  • Wake Forest HS – 1 route uncovered
  • Sanderson HS/ Carroll MS – 2 behind

Johnston County is growing

It’s also a busy morning for schools in Johnston County. At Corinth Holders Elementary in Zebulon, close to 600 students will return to the classroom. Across the Johnston County School System, 37,000 students will be making their way into the district’s 48 schools.

Johnston County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and officials estimate that Johnston County Schools is adding 730 new students this year. Currently, 73% of the district’s schools are exceeding capacity.

Of the 37,000 students in the district, 21,000 are expected to ride the bus. Johnston parents can download the Here Comes the Bus app, which shows the location of their child’s bus in real time with exact pick up and drop off times and alerts.

Cumberland County needs 200 employees

There are 86 schools in the Cumberland County school district.

dr Marvin Connelly, Jr., superintendent for Cumberland County Schools, said the district is short 85 classroom teachers and short 115 non-certified staff members, like bus drivers, counselors, social workers, lunch workers and school psychologists.

WRAL Fayetteville reporter Gilbert Baez talked to Connelly outside Ferguson-Easley Elementary School. Connelly said the pay in NC is not helping with the shortage.

“In North Carolina, we have a pipeline problem, where the universities are not producing enough teachers … also, we have got to improve the teacher pay,” Connelly said.

Connelly added school and student safety is a top priority this year. As in previous years, doors and gates will be locked during school hours. Visitors must report to the main office and have appropriated identification to gain accesses.

The Cumberland district also has a program called School Angels — consisting of volunteers in the neighborhoods surrounding the schools who keep an eye out, looking for suspicious activity. The volunteers don’t take any personal action but report suspicious activity to the school and authorities.

Track your child’s school bus route

Wake County families can use the Here Comes the Bus app to track their child’s school bus. You can also track the status of a school bus on your district’s website.

Meal prices increasing

Several area school systems—including those in Wake, Durham and Johnston counties—are raising school meal prices.

The Wake County Public School System is raising prices of all meals by $0.25, to $3 or $3.25 for lunch and $1.50 or $1.75 for breakfast, depending on the school level.

Trump Administration South Over Rollback of School Lunch Standards

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, meals were free for all students. Students can still apply for free or reduced lunch.

What about COVID-19?

This school year will feel a lot more normal. 5 On Your Side reached out to every school district in our area, and none of the 13 who responded are requiring masks this school year, although 23% are offering proactive testing programs.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In the event of COVID-19 clusters, 77% of districts say they’ll look to their local health department for guidance. Wake County Public Schools looks to the local health department for guidance in responding to clusters. They say they’re using high filtration filters in their HVAC systems and they’re looking for opportunities to let students eat meals spaced apart and outdoors.

North Carolina school districts now get their COVID-19 guidance directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which just relaxed some rules:

  • People no longer need to quarantine after a close contact
  • Social distancing isn’t needed
  • For now, they’re not recommending schools do routine daily testing

The state also stopped publicly reporting school clusters in the spring of 2022, and officials said they don’t have any plans to bring that back. School principals are still required to report suspected cases to their local health director.

COVID-19 vaccines, flu shots and more

For the first time, nearly every school-aged child is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine headed into a new school year, although COVID-19 vaccines are recommended — not required. Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you.

Flu shots are now available. It’s recommended children 6 months of age and older and adults get their flu shots by October.

Some vaccines are required in NC public schools. Here’s a list.

Helpful links