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NC Task Force Will Plan For Fall Opening Of Schools

Ann Doss Helms

North Carolina state Superintendent Mark Johnson launched a task force Thursday to figure out how to reopen schools in the fall. 

He told the state Board of Education the panel will include students, state officials, bipartisan members of the General Assembly and superintendents from large and small districts.

Among the tasks: Figuring out how to make remote learning "more user-friendly and more practical" and how to make up for the fact that it’s not working equally well for all students.

"How do we meet students at their ability level when they return and help them on their own pace reach a point where they close those learning gaps?" Johnson said.

While online education may work well for some students, Johnson says it’s just not as good as the real classroom experience.

"It’s going to be important that we work our hardest to find solutions to get as many students back in the school buildings as possible," he said.

And that will mean new ways of getting into buildings.

"Social distancing is likely going to be unavoidable until we have a vaccine," Johnson said, "and everyone can understand how difficult it will be to socially distance on a school bus, or in a classroom, or in a hallway or cafeteria."

Thursday afternoon the North Carolina Association of Educators said the goal is good but Johnson excluded most of the people who will have to carry out the new plans -- including teachers. The NCAE says the only "active teacher" is a legislator.

"Not one cafeteria worker, school counselor, janitor, school psychologist, or teacher assistant is included," the statement says. "If Superintendent Johnson wants to fashion a plan to deal with the real-world impacts of COVID-19 on public education, he should include an adequate representation of educators who are actually facing those problems right now.”

A Department of Public Instruction spokesman says the 24-person list released Thursday is just a start, and the plan is to add teachers, parents and students.

It’s unclear when students will start the next school year. That will depend on what public health officials say about the path of the coronavirus, and whether the General Assembly grants school districts calendar flexibility.

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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.