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NC Public Schools Will Remain Closed Through May 15

The rock outside South Mecklenburg High urges everyone to stay home, stay safe and stay kind.

North Carolina's public schools will remain closed through May 15 as the coronavirus pandemic spreads through the state, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday.

Cooper says he's not ready to give up on the school year, but thinks another few weeks are needed to fight the virus. The situation could still change, he says.

As usual in this rapidly evolving crisis, the announcement raised more questions than it answered. Superintendent Mark Johnson and Alan Duncan, vice chair of the state board of education, say state education officials will need to work with the General Assembly and local school boards to figure out how to conduct a school year with at least nine weeks carved out of class time.

"We already have teams who have started the plans for schools and for the legislative requests that will be necessary for everything that being out of school until May or later may require," Johnson said. "Eliminating testing. Calendar flexibility. Educator and staff compensation. And making sure that if you are a student who was going to graduate with the Class of 2020 this June, that you still will be on track to graduate this June."

Since schools closed last week, educators and volunteers across the state have scrambled to put together distance learning plans -- either online or using paper packets for young students -- that have been described as supplemental. They're not mandatory, not graded and don't advance students through the curriculum.

As of Monday, it's not clear how and when that will change.

"There will be hundreds of decisions to make – and that probably underestimates it – as we redefine school this year and beyond," Duncan said.

The new schedule means that if all goes well, most public schools could return about three weeks before the end of the academic year. For some that started early -- including Iredell-Statesville, Mooresville, Lincoln County, Anson County and Kannapolis -- there could be one week or less left.

Also today, the state Board of Education requested a waiver of year-end testing from the federal government and will ask the General Assembly to waive the state's requirement for exams. And the global International Baccalaureate Organization, which oversees programs in 58 public and private schools in the Carolinas, announced there will be no IB exams this spring.

On March 14 Cooper issued an executive order closing schools through at least the end of this week, describing it as time for the state to regroup and figure out strategies in case long-term closings are needed.

School districts around the Charlotte region have been mobilizing to switch to distance learning. Union County Public Schools are distributing packets of supplemental lesson information at several elementary schools this week, as well as directing families to online lessons.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Foundation has created a COVID-19 relief fund to buy 6,000 mobile hotspots and pay for six months of internet access for families who aren't equipped for students to do online lessons. Last week the fund got $1 million from Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, the John M. Belk Endowment and the David Belk Cannon Foundation.

Iredell-Statesville Schools launched a remote learning program today and has opened emergency child-care centers in six schools for working parents who can't stay home.

Districts and some charter schools across the region have created meal programs to provide breakfast and lunch for students who normally rely on school cafeterias.

According to an Education Week tally, 46 states have closed their schools, and Kansas has ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year. South Carolina schools are closed through the end of March.

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Education Education
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.