As students go back to school in Wake County, here are 5 changes you should know

Changes are coming when the majority of the Wake County school system’s 160,000 students start a new school year on Monday.

Four new schools are opening this year. And teachers and students at Apex High and North Ridge Elementary are returning to brand-new campuses that were rebuilt while they temporarily relocated to other locations.

Wake school officials say they’ll open Monday with more than 99% of their teaching positions filled and a driver for all 768 school bus routes.

Families and teachers will face changes that will affect how students are taught and what can be worn on campus. Here are some things to keep in mind before heading back to class.

Wake County’s new student dress code

The Wake County student dress code is getting its first major revision since 2002.

The new policy is supposed to be more gender neutral. It eliminates specific references to banned items that some female students complain had been targeted at what they wear. The old policy listed 11 examples of items that were considered inappropriate, including exposed undergarments, sagging pants, excessively short or tight garments, bare-midriff tops, strapless shirts and attire that exposes cleavage.

The new policy says clothing must cover front, back, sides and private parts and must not be see-through. Clothing must also cover from chest to mid-thigh. Undergarments must be covered, but waistbands and bra straps are excluded.

Students have long complained about being pulled out of class by teachers and administrators who made them change what they’re wearing. Time will tell whether the new policy ends fights over whether students are showing off too much skin.

New Honor Code to handle student cheating

There’s a new policy on the books to cover cases of Wake County students who are caught cheating.

Only the most severe cases of cheating under the new Honor Code, such such as stealing exam questions and taking money to do another student’s assignment, would lead to out-of-school suspensions. Less serious violations would be handled with alternatives to kicking students out of school, such as not allowing them to play interscholastic athletics.

Students who are caught cheating are required to — when possible — make up the work. The Honor Code allows schools to lower a student’s grade for cheating and to decide whether to give full, partial or no credit for the makeup work.

Like the new dress code, the Honor Code is meant to focus on what students should do as opposed to the punishments for misbehavior.

Changing how MVP Math is taught

Wake County is keeping the controversial MVP Math Curriculum but has promised to make changes in how the high school math courses will be taught.

Instead of hearing a lecture and memorizing formulas, MVP has students work in groups to solve problems while teachers act as facilitators. Critics charge that the format doesn’t teach the materials, resulting in students coming out of the class struggling to understand the curriculum.

In response, Wake is making changes such as:

Bringing in a third party to independently evaluate the implementation of MVP in the district.

Creating a “robust” website on each school webpage to support students with homework.

Delaying districtwide implementation of MVP in Math 3 so that it will be optional for schools this school year. (It’s still required in Math 1 and 2.)

Providing additional training for teachers to help them support students and implement MVP lessons.

Critics are still trying to get Wake to drop the program entirely.

School lunch prices increase

It will cost an extra 20 cents to buy a full-price school lunch in Wake County.

The cost for a full-price lunch will be $2.75 in elementary schools and $3 in middle schools and high schools. Prices are unchanged for reduced-price students.

This is the fourth year in a row Wake has raised school lunch prices. In that time period, prices have risen 75 cents. Wake families will pay $132.75 more per child for lunch each school year than they did four years ago.

The school district is blaming the latest price increase on higher food costs associated with the federal school lunch program, labor costs and the cost of replacing aging equipment.

Wake County drops half days of school

Wake County students will actually have fewer days of school this year. But none will be he half days of classes.

The new school year will have 177 days of classes instead of the traditional 180 days built in for students. Wake will use the three fewer school days to add more teacher workdays.

The change is possible because under state law students have to have either 180 days of classes annually or at least 1,025 hours of instruction. To ensure there’s enough instructional time, Wake is eliminating the six early-release days given each school year — half-days when students leave 2 1/2 hours early.

Go to www.wcpss.net/calendars to download copies of the 2019-20 school calendars.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.