by Lindsay Marchello
Gov. Roy Cooper’s school reopening plan creates confusion when parents and kids need a clear path forward, one education expert says.
Cooper on Tuesday told parents decisions about remote or in-person education would be left to school districts. The announcement, which the governor delayed for weeks, leaves little time to plan before classes begin.
In June, the state asked all public school districts to create three reopening plans. Plan A has the fewest restrictions, requiring minimal social distancing of students and staff. Plan B requires more stringent social distancing and fewer people in the school building. Under Plan C, schools would use only remote learning. Cooper announced Tuesday that school districts can choose either Plan B or C. Under Plan B, all students, teachers, and staff will have to wear face masks, even though the governor’s face mask mandate excludes children under the age of 11.
The exception doesn’t apply to K-12 schools, Kelly Haight Conners, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, told Carolina Journal.
The governor offered a one-size-fit all solution, said Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina. Truitt is running as the Republican candidate for state superintendent. She was an education policy adviser for former Gov. Pat McCrory.
Truitt wants more local control in deciding how schools should reopen. School officials understand their communities and can better tap into what parents want — and what students need, she said.
“What we are left with is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Truitt said.
Large school districts will struggle to teach in-person and remote classes and will probably default to full-time remote learning, Truitt said. Likewise, rural school districts will find remote learning impossible and revert to a partial, in-person model.
Cooper on July 1 was supposed to announce a plan for schools but instead delayed the decision a couple of weeks. Schools had less time to fine tune their plans, and local boards held a flurry of emergency meetings.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in a 7-1 vote, decided students will, for the first two weeks, attend school in-person on a rotating basis. Students will then transition to remote learning. A day later, Orange County Schools decided, in a unanimous vote, to hold the first four weeks of school virtually. Warren County Schools will hold virtual classes until October and will make wifi hotspots available throughout the community, WRAL reported. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools decided Thursday night to move fully online.
Parents should have low expectations for the first few months of the school year, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
School districts were reluctant to mobilize teachers as they waited for Cooper, Stoops said. The burden is on teachers to cobble together lesson plans a few weeks before classes begin.
The teachers who are there, that is. Older teachers, Stoops said, may opt for an early retirement. Others may decide to leave the profession for a more flexible job.
Students face their own challenges.
“Remote learning is a great choice for kids who have the following: quality devices, high speed internet, and a parent who knows how the technology works and can supervise them throughout the day,” Truitt said.
About 10% of households lack internet access, the N.C. Department of Information Technology found in a 2019 survey. It’s unclear how many K-12 students are affected, but poorer households appear to be the ones most likely not to have internet access. Truitt said as 300,000 students may be affected — nearly one-fifth of them.
Lindsay Marchello is an associate editor at Carolina Journal