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Cooper Announces NC Schools To Remain Closed Through End Of School Year

NC Department of Public Safety
Gov. Roy Cooper announces that schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper has extended his order closing North Carolina schools through the end of the school year, ending the suspense about whether students and employees would be expected to return May 18.

Previously, Cooper had issued an executive order closing all schools through May 15.

"We don’t make this decision lightly," Cooper said. "But it’s important to protect the health and safety of our students and our school staff."

Cooper said that remote learning will continue through the scheduled end of the school year in early June, even as buildings remain closed.

The phased-in approach to reopening businesses that Cooper unveiled Thursday won't work for schools, which can't limit admission to small groups or ensure that students keep a safe distance apart. Cooper and other education officials say those concerns will spill into the summer and fall as well.

"Rest assured, we will operate our schools differently in the next school year because the safety and security of your child and your child’s teacher, in our eyes, demands nothing less," said Eric Davis, the state Board of Education chair.

Cooper ticked off some of the challenges ahead: "How we provide hygiene and cleaning, how we space students with social distancing, how we may stagger things … Depending on how things are and what our indicators look like, we may not be doing sports or common areas."

While Friday's announcement settles one question, it raises a host of new ones for schools and families: How will graduates be recognized? Will students who aren't engaged in remote learning be ready for the next grade? How can students and employees be kept safe whenever in-person classes resume?

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said Friday that educators have been forced to react quickly to COVID-19, but the coming weeks will be used to craft strategy.

"This proactive work will be bipartisan and involve the governor, the state board, the General Assembly, local education leaders and parent, teacher and student advisors," Johnson said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Chair Elyse Dashew said Thursday she was eager to hear whether Cooper would extend his closing order, but said all schools will still have to plan for a range of scenarios, including a response to a potential second wave of COVID-19.

"Will we have a situation where some kids go back and some don’t?" she asked. "Will we have high absentee rates if we have concerned families who want to keep their kids home? And what do we do about that?"

Educators and policymakers across the state have said the abrupt shift to remote learning forced by the coronavirus crisis has widened the gaps between students with good internet access and supportive home situations and those who can't keep up.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that on our best day in North Carolina, our public schools don't serve all of our students well," state Board of Education James Ford said at a meeting Thursday. "What the virus has done, though, it's not only exposed these inequities but it's exacerbated them."

In announcing the school closures, Cooper also announced a new partnership with AT&T, which has provided 100 hot spots that will be situated in school buses to allow for internet access for students without that capability. Another partnership with Duke Energy Foundation will provide 80 hot spots in school buses.

He also announced another infusion of federal aid for education, including $243 million for K-12 schools, about $77 million for higher education and $78 million to keep the emergency meal program for students going.

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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.