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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

NC Clears Red Tape To Create Settings Where Kids Can Learn Remotely

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Dashiell Coleman
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WFAE

State and local officials are working to clear the way for parents to create neighborhood learning pods – and for schools and community groups to launch supervised settings for remote learning. 

With in-person classes in flux this summer, Joe Maxim of Pineville joined the ranks of North Carolina parents looking into hiring a teacher or tutor to supervise a cluster of neighborhood kids while their parents work.

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Credit Town of Pineville
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Town of Pineville
Joe Maxim

He realized there was a problem: Such arrangements appeared to qualify as child care centers under North Carolina law. And "it is a Class 1 felony for operating a child care (facility) without a license," Maxim said.

Maxim is also a Pineville Town Council member and a member of a panel that brings municipal officials together to advise Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He got reassurances from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services that parent co-ops for school age kids won’t be considered illegal child care, as long as they’re based in a family home.

"DHHS attorneys believe that parents can form co-ops in their homes to meet the instructional needs of their children," regional manager Jeff Gaster said in an email last week. "These co-ops would be exempt and (the state) would have no jurisdiction to intervene with these arrangements."

Need Is Broader

But not all families can afford to hire help. And almost every student in North Carolina is going to spend part of this fall learning remotely, even if they report to school some days. That means more support is needed.

"It’s going to come from a combination of at-home learning clusters, it’s going to come from community learning clusters, and, you know, now-dormant facilities getting engaged to support the effort," Maxim said.

For instance, Iredell-Statesville Schools is bringing K-8 students into schools two days a week and working with community groups to provide care on the other days. It's using a vacant school and some unused middle school classrooms to host remote-care centers, and sending its own staff into a church to provide a supervised setting in northern Iredell County.

New Options

The CMS Municipal Education Advisory Committee wrote to state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen last week asking for options to safely streamline child care licensing requirements.

"Many of our families are struggling with the impacts of the shutdown, and we want to be able to offer them an opportunity to earn a living during the crisis," the letter says.

DHHS approved new rules for the school year that begins Monday. They say:

  • Licensed child care centers can expand into new space to provide school-age care without getting a new license. The centers must show that the new site meets safety codes, but the outdoor space requirements are waived.
  • Public schools can open remote learning centers in their schools without getting a child care license, even if a third party provides the care. That care has to meet state rules for opening schools in the pandemic.
  • Community organizations, such as recreation departments, YMCAs and nonprofit groups, can launch new remote learning centers without a child care license as long as they have a contract with a public school district.

The state offers a hotline for families seeking school-day care: 1-888-600-1685.
A memo from Chief Deputy Secretary Susan Gale Perry says as of Aug. 1 there were about 30,000 slots for school-age children available in licensed child care centers across the state. "But," Perry notes, "availability varies from community to community."

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