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NC Schools Are Mobilizing Emergency Child Care, Meals And Online Lessons

Ann Doss Helms
Sign at South Point High School in Belmont.

North Carolina’s public schools are moving fast to create emergency child care, meals for students and online learning plans, a state official told the state Board of Education Wednesday.

Deputy Superintendent David Stegall, who is leading the Department of Public Instruction's coronavirus response, and state board chair Eric Davis, say some questions remain unanswered, including how to ensure seniors can meet graduation requirements and whether the two weeks of closing that Gov. Roy Cooper ordered Saturday can count toward required school time if distance learning is provided.

The board granted Davis and Vice Chair Alan Duncan the power to make emergency policy changes without going through the normal channels.

Child Care For Essential Workers

Stegall said at least one-quarter of North Carolina’s private child-care centers are closed because of coronavirus concerns. He said the closure rate may be closer to two-thirds, because state officials haven’t been able to reach many of the 4,500 private centers. Only 1,500 have reported remaining open, he told the state board.

"We’re trying to develop in each district what it would look like if we were needed to open up child care facilities on short notice to help with the overflow for the front-line workers," he said.

But he said the task force on education in the time of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — also met with nine large child care chains that said they still have space available, so that requires a delicate balance.

"What we don’t want to do is create free child care facilities in our schools for parents and cause the close-down of private-pay who are dependent on that revenue as well," he said.

Stegall says school districts are also working with partners like YMCAs and Boys and Girls clubs. He says the state expects to have a toll-free number active today for parents to call and get information about nearby options.

Online Learning

Superintendents and state officials are putting together plans for teaching students remotely for the next two weeks — and longer if needed.

Stegall said top teachers from around the state — including recent Teachers of the Year — are putting together online lessons that will air on UNC-TV. Educators are creating and sharing resources through other means as well, he said.

Educators are trying to figure out which students need internet access to learn online and working with internet companies and other partners to make sure they can get free or discounted access. Officials are also scrambling to create training for teachers to transition to working online or through packets sent hom.

Stegall said the state is exploring creating lessons in Spanish as well.

Stegall acknowledged there will be "equity issues" to be resolved, including the needs of students who are homeless or have disabilities.

The state is still trying to figure out how to address graduation requirements to ensure that seniors can earn diplomas.

Feeding Students 

Stegall said 95 of the state's 115 school districts have launched emergency feeding programs for students, as well as 24 of almost 200 charter schools and 35 community agencies that are working with public schools.

He said he spoke with a superintendent in a small district who reported serving more students than the entire district's enrollment. Schools aren't demanding proof of enrollment or financial need, and Stegall says the feeding programs are likely covering students in charter and private schools.

He said some districts (inclulding several in the Charlotte region) are using "grab and go" systems, where families can pick up food without lingering in large groups. Others are using buses to deliver food to community hubs.