Gov. Roy Cooper finally announced that North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school children will not return to school full-time this fall, and will spend much of their time at home, learning via computer.
Cooper’s decision to adopt the “Plan B” part-time school option in the fall means half empty school buildings and scrambling parents trying to not only figure out childcare options but also determine how and if they are able to keep working, putting many parents in a horrible dilemma of choosing to either provide for their family or staying in a safe environment while their child is being educated remotely.
“We know that many of the traditional public school’s remote learning options were not effective for students. They did not succeed in delivering a sound, basic and uniform education as required by the North Carolina Constitution. Now we have parents that will not be able to work and employers who will lose good employees, amid a struggling North Carolina economy,” said Civitas President and CEO, Donald Bryson.
“North Carolina school districts should strive to offer students a sense of normalcy, which can be tailored on a district by district bases, with remote learning for students and families that believe that option to be in their family’s best interest. If the North Carolina public schools are not going to educate students on a full-time basis, parents should immediately receive an education savings account from the state providing them the choice of a learning environment that works for them.”
Civitas has been warning parents of this nightmare scenario for nearly a month. The reality become crystal clear, when Gov. Cooper said on July 1:
That major school districts were gearing up for plan ‘B” that would have students in class as little as one week out of every three and in many cases never. Whatever Cooper said a few weeks ago, the fact is for many North Carolina school children, much of the time, North Carolina classrooms doors will remain closed.”
The state’s two largest school systems have their Cooper mandated “B” plans in place.
Wake County Public School students will be in class in-person for one full week and learning from home for two. Mecklenburg’s County Public Schools Plan B is similar although slightly different for high school. Most Wake and Mecklenburg parents in contact with Civitas have rejected the idea of part-time in-person instruction for their children.
After Wake and Mecklenburg made their decision, the notice of intent to homeschool website run by the state crashed on July 1 due to unprecedented demand.
Many other counties have already adopted their plan “B” options.
New Hanover will be the same as Wake County Schools; one week in person, for every two at home. Alamance County and Sampson County School students will attend two days a week and be at home three days a week. Some counties are choosing to have elementary children in person more often and high school students exclusively remote.
Cooper’s part-time school plan comes with 126 pages of mandates, regulations and guidelines. They will make receiving an education at school — when kids happen to actually be there — extremely difficult.
Requirements include enforcing social distancing with floor and seating markers, providing cleaning supplies, regularly disinfecting classrooms, and conducting daily health screenings for all students and staff. Parents must sign a form every day saying they have checked their child’s temperature before they are allowed on the bus. Students will have temperature screenings every day at school before being allowed to access the building.
Schools are expected to enforce extreme social distancing at all times. Students are never supposed to be within 6 feet of another human being during the school day, on the bus, in the classroom, in the hallway or in the restroom.
All students including kindergarteners as young as five years old are required to wear face masks or other face coverings from the time they get on the school bus in the morning until the time they get off in the afternoon, except when they are eating lunch alone.
“Schools are going to have a very difficult time getting such a complicated plan to work” said Dr. Bob Luebke, director of policy and lead education analyst for the Civitas Institute. “How are parents supposed to manage several kids on different schedules? How are teachers supposed to keep 6 feet away from their students and check their temperatures? How are principals going to enforce extreme social distancing with kindergarteners, middle schoolers and high schoolers of dating age?”
Parents like Christy, a mother of three, with a rising 9th and a rising 2nd grader from Camden County told Civitas that Cooper’s part-time school mandate will be economically devastating for her family.
“I would be forced to quit working and live off of my fiancé’s income which will not meet the needs of a family of five. And unemployment would be exhausted at that point for myself.”
Nick with three elementary school aged children in Denver, North Carolina told Civitas:
“It would be impossible; we have three kids in three different schools. We have a carefully planned carpool with our neighbors, so certain parents pick up and drop off on days they can revolve around work. Any sort of arbitrarily picked 50% schedule would be chaos, to every kid and parent subjected to it.”
Harnett County Board of Education Member Jason Lemons strongly disagrees with Gov. Cooper’s order.
“Under law we are obligated to follow the governor’s directives under plan “B.” However, left to our own devices, the Harnett County Board of Education would choose to fully open our schools on a full-time basis in a careful and safe way. Harnett County is a rural county. Many of our residents’ experience issues with internet access, connectivity and wireless issues and broadband speed deficiencies. This is especially true in our unincorporated areas. Distance learning will be a challenge to some of our families, and we all know that there is no substitute for the social interaction and hands on learning of in-person instruction. We are a proud, hardworking, blue-collar county. There are concerns from many of our families about making a living while we will be creating a learning environment in the home. Some of our school administrators have concerns about enforcing social distancing requirements with young children. I recently spoke with an experienced kindergarten teacher who has concerns about five-year old students learning the basics by a computer? The governor’s mandate will lead to poor educational outcomes. His one size fits all approach will reduce the quality of education for rural counties like Harnett County, while Wake, Mecklenburg and Forsyth will tap into their large tax base to absorb much of the unfunded mandates that come with this late breaking decision. The timing of the decision puts our staff and administrations at a disadvantage to meet sweeping changes in less than 30 days. This decision is contrary to the American Pediatric Associations recommendations. Most importantly, this decision shortchanges the children of Harnett County, and that is heartbreaking.”
Susan Mills, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher in Sampson County says, poor and at-risk children are the ones most being harmed by not being in school every day.
“We are doing such a disservice to our students by not returning to school normally. I have worried about my students every day since we have been out. Are they safe? Do they have food? Do they have a place to sleep? These children are the very ones that need an education in a classroom, not virtual.”
Not all parents who wrote to Civitas want schools fully open.
Amber with two middle schoolers in the Pender County Schools said “I would want remote learning only; their safety is my top priority. We love the precautions the school district and governor are considering.”
But no scenario ever considered would force parents uncomfortable with sending children back to school, to do so, and if schools were to fully open remote/distance learning would be available for all families that require/desire it.
Opinions about re-opening North Carolina’s schools diverge greatly across North Carolinas urban-rural divide.
In Wake County only 43% of the more than 25,000 parents surveyed said they’re comfortable with going back on campus next school year. Compared with the more rural, blue collar Stokes County where only 21% of parentsexpressed reservations about sending children back to school.
Cooper’s delay in announcing his back to school plans have already caused chaos and confusion in high school sportsacross North Carolina, and in part is keeping most athletes off the field for summer workouts. In a sign of things to come Wake County already suspended all athletic activity indefinitely and the adoption of plan B, almost assuredly means North Carolina will have no Friday night football or any other high school sports this fall, a major concern for parents with children driven by athletics.
Crystal from Thomasville told Civitas:
“My 11th grade student has played football since he was five. He will be crushed if for some reason they can’t play. He’s worked so hard to pass his grades and absolutely loves football.”