STANLEY, N.C. — Gaston County students returned to classrooms Monday for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The county is operating on a hybrid approach, which gives students in-person instruction twice a week and online instruction the rest of the week on an A/B schedule.
At Stanley Middle School, parents waited several minutes as administrators went car by car to check each child's temperature and ask them if they're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
As she waited to drop off her 12-year-old, Rachael Harvey reflected on how different the first day of school was this year compared to when she was a child.
"Just nervous about the day," Harvey said. "I pray for my children. I would encourage everybody to do that."
Once students are cleared to enter the building, they'll be guided to their classrooms with help from arrows and social distancing markings on the floor.
Everyone in the building is required to wear a mask.
Despite letting her kids go to school in-person, Harvey said she considered homeschooling them as her mother, who lives with the family, has breathing issues, and Harvey feared the county's efforts may not be enough.
"I don't really think this was a wise decision not simply for the kids, but for the parents and grandparents as well," Harvey said.
Many Gaston County teachers are frustrated they'll be returning to in-person instruction.
Monday night dozens of teachers gathered outside the Gaston County School Board meeting pleading for a switch to Plan C — all virtual learning.
“We have too many students, not enough staff,” 4th-grade teacher Sherry Willi said. “Over half of the county has gone to the virtual academy which sends a sign right there that most parents want virtual. We need to be safe.”
There were also parents at the rally who shared similar concerns.
“Now that our kids' lives are at risk we’re here and we do not think our kids should go to school," parent Sierra Hall said. "Our nation is sick."
Despite the parent and teacher pleas, the Gaston County school board members decided to continue with Plan B. Some school administrators say on the first day back to school they’ve already seen success.
“We developed a class schedule change that would allow one grade level at a time to change classes and this allows for students to travel in one direction only and ensure we adhere to six feet guidelines,” Gaston Early College HS Principal Josh Allen said.
Other teachers are still concerned the six feet distance still isn’t reasonable in the classroom setting.
“It’s hard for me to assist a student from six feet away because I can’t see what their question is about,” Gaston NCAE President Pam Miller said.