North Carolina Schools Closed for Remainder of School Year

NC Board of Education seal. Source: Source: North Carolina Public Schools
NC Board of Education seal. Source: Source: North Carolina Public Schools

 

Today, April 24, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced that public schools in the state will remain closed for normal operations for the remainder of this school year.

Schools were originally scheduled to be closed through May 15, 2020. Students are currently continuing their schoolwork via various remote learning methods.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said that while there was hope schools could eventually reopen this school year, the current COVID-19 situation in North Carolina does not make that possible.  Said Superintendent Johnson:

“Teachers, staff, and students were hopeful that they could return to the classroom, but that is just not practical at this point. However, I want to assure everyone that this will not be the new normal. While this crisis has forced us to be reactive over the last month, plans for next school year are already underway and will be proactive. We will share more on these proactive measures soon.”

Superintendent Johnson praised the work that educators and parents across North Carolina have done to help students continue their studies while schools have been closed.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has continued to work to ensure that students and families have the resources they need.  That not only includes providing ways to get instructional materials to students, but also making sure they have access to things such as proper nutrition. DPI has been working closely with local school districts to provide whatever assistance they might need during this time.

At a special called meeting yesterday, the State Board of Education approved a plan on how grading will work in public schools for the current school year.  Information on that plan can be found here (PDF).

In light of the Governor’s announcement that students will not return to schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, the State Board’s decision to not seek progress monitoring data for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, and the novel needs K-3 students, educators, and parents will face next school year, DPI has terminated the June 2019 Read to Achieve diagnostic tool contract and will immediately begin a new process to procure one, uniform reading diagnostic tool before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education, separately issued the below statement:

COVID-19 has necessitated innovation. Educators throughout North Carolina have, without hesitation, are answering this call. It is with great admiration that we express appreciation for district and school leaders for providing vision and direction, teachers for serving as education’s first responders by maintaining critical connections while nurturing students’ social and emotional well-being. Countless child nutrition, transportation, and other support staff are ensuring our most vulnerable students continue to receive nutrition meals.

As Governor Cooper indicated, our schools will continue to play a critical role in response to this public health emergency.  While school buildings will continue to be used strategically to address student needs (such as some schools continuing to serve as emergency child care sites for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response in coordination with DHHS) school employees will support students and provide supplemental remote learning opportunities until the scheduled end of each district’s respective 2019-20 school year.

Teachers and school employees are to continue to work and they remain eligible to be paid. Hourly employees remain important for instructional purposes and to fulfilling urgent emergency needs. Local leaders should continue to assign duties to our valuable classified staff members to keep them working. We need their help to continue to improve our emergency efforts. Teachers remain working and their efforts are vital for supporting our school children and their families. Districts should remain sensitive to employees’ particular health concerns, and CDC and DHHS public health guidance. Remote work is a viable option that we all encourage, and local schools should take full advantage.

The next few months will require us to pivot from our initial response to recovery. Recovery will require state and local leaders to identify and allocate critical resources.  Resources will be necessary to support the availability of nutritious meals and provide opportunities to reconnect students who, in some cases, have experienced a significant pause in their instructional journeys.  Resources will also be necessary to provide training and support for educators who have been challenged to rethink instructional design and delivery.

Only time will tell how our communities recover from this public health crisis. This will inform our decisions about how public education will be required to evolve to ensure we maintain our basic constitutional responsibility. Regardless, we know public schools are forever changed. Continued partnerships, communication, and collaboration will help us take the necessary steps this summer to prepare for the new school year.

In light of today’s announcement, we remain forward focused. State and district leaders are already discussing options and planning for what reentry in the 2020-21 school year can look like and what resources will be necessary to support our students’ academic and social, emotional, and health needs.

North Carolina is home to seven majestic lighthouses, symbols of strength, hope for the weary, beacons of safety in rough waters. Like a mighty lighthouse, we will continue to stand our ground with an unwavering commitment to endure the challenges thrust upon us by COVID-19. We will rely on our resilience to maintain excellence in education while we continue to provide hope and needed support to the children, families, and North Carolina’s public schools.

 Remote learning will continued through the end of the school year. Said Governor Cooper:

“School buildings will stay closed to students for this school year, but school isn’t over. The decision to finish the year by remote learning was not made lightly, but it is the right thing to do to protect our students, teachers and communities. This is a difficult time for many children and parents, and I am grateful for all the educators, administrators, support staff and parents who have gone the extra mile to keep children learning.”

To help students without home internet access online learning opportunities, Cooper today announced a partnership to equip more school buses with Wi-Fi. School buses with Wi-Fi will travel to areas that lack internet so students can turn in assignments, download materials, and connect with teachers. AT&T is providing 100 hot spots, Duke Energy Foundation is providing 80, and additional partners are expected to join the effort.

State public health officials are developing safety guidelines for schools to follow when classes are able to convene in person, as well as guidance for summer camps and other groups that use school facilities.

Funding Emergency Operations

The Governor also [today] released a recommended budget plan to invest $1.4 billion in emergency funds to help North Carolina respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including  school operations.

Funding for this proposal would come predominantly from the state’s share of the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) and would be appropriated by the North Carolina General Assembly in its upcoming session. The budget package is intended to fund immediate needs in three main areas:

  • Public health and safety
  • Continuity of operations for education and other state government services
  • Assistance to small businesses and local governments.

The Governor said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every North Carolinian. This emergency funding proposal makes strong investments in public health, schools, local governments and small businesses to respond to this unprecedented crisis.”

Governor Cooper and State Budget Director Charlie Perusse worked with state agencies, local governments, and other stakeholders to identify what immediate COVID-related needs were unmet by existing federal and commercial assistance to build a budget proposal that is responsive and responsible.

Key investments from this proposal include:

  • $75 million to support testing, tracing and trends analysis as well as have the Personal Protective Equipment needed to help North Carolina move into Phase 1 of easing restrictions;
  • $78 million for school nutrition to continue to serve as many as 500,000 meals a day to children who depend on these meals to meet basic nutrition needs typically met in school;
  • $75 million for rural and underserved communities and health care providers that are particularly hard hit by COVID-19;
  • $243 million for public schools to enhance remote learning and get ready for the next school year in a “new normal.” Funds are a joint request from DPI and the State Board of Education.
  • $52 million to the UNC system and private colleges to help with remote learning and COVID-19 impacts;
  • $300 million to assist local governments, distributed based partially on population and partially on acute need.

Governor Cooper and State Budget Director Charlie Perusse have been in discussions with leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly for several weeks to develop a consensus COVID-19 budget package that can be approved swiftly when the legislature returns next week. Elements of this package have already been announced as having consensus support, including a significant investment in an already operating bridge loan program for small businesses through the Golden L.E.A.F. Foundation.

“This plan is a first step, and while it may not have all that North Carolina needs moving forward I present it in the spirit of compromise and consensus so that we can get relief to families fast,” said Cooper.

 

Source: North Carolina Public Schools

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