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Cooper's Cliffhanger: Will Schools Reopen In May? You'll Learn Soon.

N.C. Department of Public Safety
Many thought Thursday's briefing from Gov. Roy Cooper, shown here last Friday, would include news about schools.

Thursday was a big day for news about North Carolina schools coping with the coronavirus. But the answer everyone was waiting didn't come.

Gov. Roy Cooper's afternoon briefing on plans for lifting restrictions said nothing about schools. When a reporter asked, he said that's coming Friday afternoon. (Stream that announcement here at 2 p.m.)

His current school closing order ends May 15, and people around the state are waiting to see whether he extends that to the end of the school year. 

"Not knowing is really hard, and it will be a relief to know," Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Chair Elyse Dashew said Thursday morning. "Then we can be a lot more focused and specific in our planning."

Like many people, she’s expecting the order to extend through the end of the school year, echoing the decision South Carolina made this week.

"I cannot see how we could practice safe social distancing on May 18th," she said. "You know, I’m thinking about Community House Middle School, where the kids are so jam-packed in a hallway when classes change – there’s just no way you could achieve safe social distancing."

Cooper apparently held off to focus on his strategy for lifting other restrictions -- and to avoid overlapping with two other groups making big decisions about schools and the virus.

The state Board of Education approveda plan for grading students this year, knowing that they haven't all had access to remote learning since schools closed in mid-March. They also approved a request for $382 million from the General Assembly to cover virus-related expenses.

At one point, more than 3,600 people were streaming that state board meeting, a sign of the intense interest in how schools will handle a remote-learning school year.

Later Thursday, a House panel approved a calendar plan that would let public schools open August 17, instead of the current date of August 24.

The proposed bill also says the state will pay for a two-week “jump start” session in early August for students considered at risk by their teachers. There’s not a lot of detail about how that would look.

Rep. John Fraley of Iredell County, one of the co-chairs, said it's been difficult to come to agreement on whether to let schools open early to make up for time lost this year.

"The calendar and the jump start are still somewhat works in progress," he said. "We’ve been working back and forth with the Senate on both of these things. I think that we are reasonably close in theory."

The bill will go to the House and Senate when the General Assembly convenes next week.

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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.