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CHCCS held its first day of school on Aug. 29 with adapted COVID-19 requirements

Smith Middle School, as pictured on Aug. 26, 2022. CHCCS schools will started the 2022-2023 school year on Aug. 29, 2022.

On Monday, Aug. 29, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools opened its doors for another school year.

This is the first full school year since 2019 that face masks aren't required but instead encouraged, and students are in-person after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Emily Kilgallen, the president of the Chapel Hill High School student government, said she is nervous about this school year because, as a senior, she has not yet had a typical year of high school.

“There’s a lot of unknowns and there’s a lot of things that I have never gotten to experience,” she said.

Kilgallen said that while things will never be the same because of the COVID-19 pandemic, school is transitioning back to normal with the help of the staff and district.

Andy Jenks, the chief communications director for CHCCS, said he is excited about students' return to school.

“I think a lot of folks in public education know the beginning of school to be a magical time of year," he said. “There’s an enormous amount of positive energy and enthusiasm for getting the school year off to a great start."

Jenks said many activities were planned to welcome the students and staff back for another year.

The HEARTcoming 2022 Bus Tour on Aug. 24 was an event that allowed the superintendent and district leaders to greet staff by riding a bus and visiting all 20 schools in the school system.

The goal of this event was to bring positive energy, spread the district’s mission and give away donated prizes, Jenks said. Other events like Meet the Teacher Night and New Family Orientation also happened before the beginning of the school year.

“The general theme behind them is the same, which is to build relationships and to get to know our students better before school begins," Jenks said.

Another way the district is working to help families is by providing free at-home COVID-19 tests to students and staff, Jenks said.

According to the CHCCS website, testing kits will be sent home at the beginning of the year and are available on request to all staff and students. 

To get ready for the school year, Rachel Holderied, the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) vice president at McDougle Middle School, said her family has been attending events, meeting the teachers and organizing supplies for the year. 

Holderied said the PTA hosts different meetings throughout the year to keep parents connected.

"I think it's going to be a good school year," she said.

Jenks said that ensuring that families have access to up-to-date information on pandemic protocols is important.

The district recommends that students wear masks, but schools may require masks depending on the number of positive cases at each location. 

If a school identifies 15 individual positive COVID-19 cases in a building or five positive cases in a group, it must require masking indoors. From there, the school has the option to extend that mask requirement depending on how the virus spreads. 

Kilgallen said CHHS had to wear masks for the first few days of school because there was an outbreak of COVID-19 cases on a sports team. 

Jenks said that the district is taking advice from the Orange County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and urged people to stay home if they feel ill.

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In addition to dealing with pandemic-related measures, many schools in the district are struggling with staff shortages, Jenks said.

“It’s a challenge and it’s a challenge not just in Chapel Hill, but in many of our neighboring districts, if not throughout the country,” he said.

To combat the staff shortages, Jenks said CHCCS is working to provide competitive salaries and benefits. The district has also been successful in hiring qualified long-term and short-term substitutes to fill in any gaps at the start of the year, he said.

Kilgallen said her school and the district have done well in connecting families with relevant information on COVID-19 pandemic protocols and ensuring safety in the schools.

“On one hand, you still need to think about safety and public health, but on the other hand, you want to give students that normal experience and I think our school has done a really good job of trying to find that balance,” Kilgallen said.


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