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What to know as K-12 students return to session in North Carolina

Thousands of Charlotte-area students will head back to in-person learning after winter break. With changes to the state's toolkit, here's what you should know.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County health officials say even with a rise in COVID-19 cases in the area and the state, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will welcome back students in-person this week. 

"There are no plans at this point to delay the start of school," said former Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris during a press conference before the first of the year. 

She and other health officials said the new year won't mean a big change in precautions in school buildings. 

Students and staff will still need to be masked in school regardless of vaccination status, Harris said. 

"Nobody likes wearing a mask," Harris admitted. "But we do know that that's effective in helping prevent the spread of this virus."

With the rapid spread of omicron in Mecklenburg County and around the Carolinas, health officials continue to beg parents and teachers to stay home if you or your child are sick. 

"If you are ill, and you have symptoms that you think may be related to COVID or that you've been exposed to somebody with COVID -- please try to get tested," Harris said. 

"That's one of the major things that our parents can do and our teachers can do to support us keeping people in the school system."

In a call to CMS parents Sunday night, the district echoed that message. 

"Please keep your children home if they are ill and consider getting them tested," a voicemail that was left for parents said in part. 

Winter break ends for CMS on Tuesday, Jan. 4, according to the district's calendar.

Just days before the restart of school, North Carolina also changed its StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit. Changes were made on Dec. 30.

The biggest change to it is when students and staff can comeback to the classroom if they get COVID-19. 

RELATED: Experts weigh in on COVID-19 at-home test reliability

The toolkit falls in line with the most recent CDC guidance. Anyone who tests positive, but does not have symptoms, can return to the classroom in five days. Then, they must wear a mask in all settings for the next five days. 

Still, the best defense is a vaccine for those who are eligible, Harris said. 

"It's safe. It's effective. You need to get vaccinated," she said. 

Union County Public Schools is also echoing the sentiment. The system sent out an update to parents on Sunday, letting families know about the changes to the toolkit. Students and staff return to the classroom Jan. 3. 

While UCPS remains masks optional, the district says "persons who are impacted by a positive case or quarantine, should follow the guidelines in the toolkit."

RELATED: LIST: K-12 schools in Charlotte-area districts mask, vaccine and remote learning decisions

UCPS says anyone with questions about the state's guidance is encouraged to contact the nurse of the school your child attends or Union County Public Health.

You can view the entire toolkit provided by the state below:

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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