As dawn broke across North Carolina, 1.5 million public school children were supposed to be headed back to the classroom this week to resume in-person education halted last spring by the coronavirus.
But judging Gov. Roy Cooper by his own words, his own goals, and his own stated priorities, he has been an abject failure, and well over a million North Carolina children and their parents will pay the price.
“We want our schools open for in-person instruction in August. The classroom is the best place for children to learn. Recent reports recommend it, and I know many parents and children agree.” Gov. Roy Cooper July 1, 2020.
However, according to the News and Observer, 70% of North Carolina’s 1.5 million North Carolina’s public school children will start the school year with remote based home-based learning only.
And few of the students who will receive in-person instruction will be able to get it daily because of social distancing requirements designed to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
For example, Union County students will attend school in-person just one day a week.
“Cooper has done nothing to encourage districts to resume in-person instruction,” said Terry Stoops, director of Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation. “Instead, he’s remained silent as the majority of North Carolina school districts selected full-time remote learning plans, regardless of the hardships that such plans impose on working families or the desire of families to have a more conventional in-person option.”
On July 1, Gov. Cooper gave parents hope that their children would soon be returning to the classroom, that they could return to work, and life might return to some sense of normalcy and balance.
“We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure we get this right. My number one opening priority is classroom doors,” said Cooper
When Cooper finally announced a school re-opening plan for North Carolina, a hybrid plan that would allow students to return part-time and schools to operate at 50% capacity, he again stressed the importance of returning children to the classroom for in-person learning.
We know schools will look a lot different this year,” Cooper said in an afternoon news conference. “They have to be safe and effective.”
“We know there will always be some risk with in-person learning and we are doing a lot to reduce that risk,” Cooper said. “But as pediatricians and other health experts tell us, there is much risk in not going back to in-person school.”
But Cooper was selling false hope. In preparation for Cooper’s decision school systems were told to prepare three re-opening plans:
- Plan A: Daily face-to-face instruction for all students
- Plan B: A mix of online and in-class learning
- Plan C: Fully online learning for all students
However, Civitas noted at the time that the “Plan B” hybrid learning” was flawed from the beginning.
Civitas Director of Policy Bob Luebke called Gov. Cooper’s school orders a bureaucratic nightmare, complete with 120 pages of unfunded mandates, rules and guidelines. Luebke called Cooper’s directives “unworkable,” and predicted failure from day one.
“No school system could ever make this plan work,” said Luebke. “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?”
“Given the difficulty of implementing social-distancing plans that adhere to DHHS guidelines, districts will have no choice but to employ full-time remote learning in the fall,” Stoops said.
And as predicted, even though Cooper would announce schools could open for part-time in person instruction under plan “B”, On July 14th because of the complicated rules, mandates and enormous costs, most school systems would opt for remote learning only as Cooper had to know was going to happen.
So Cooper talked a good game about the importance of opening schools for in-person learning, but his administration blocked any school districts, even small rural districts with few virus cases from opening for full-time learning, under plan “A.” But he allowed any county to choose, with no metrics, no science based reasoning, to choose remote learning only.
Cooper also delayed a school reopening plan announcement to the last possible moment on July 15. Three weeks before teachers returned to work and just a month before the August 17 statewide first day of school.
When Brunswick County decided to go all remote despite never surveying parents on the option, the superintendent inferred he needed more time to open under Plan “B” because the safety protocols would be extremely difficult to carry out logistically.
“Gov. Cooper’s decision to delay his school reopening announcement is the primary reason why many schools are ill-prepared to begin the school year, consistent with his administration’s restrictive guidelines.” said Stoops
Over the next six weeks, despite his stated priority of returning children to the classroom, Cooper did nothing to encourage local school districts to open under plan “B,” which offers more in-person instruction.
As would become painfully obvious over the next month and a half, Cooper never intended to see children back in school. His number one political ally, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), which operates like a union, was unleashed on local school boards pushing many to adopt the remote only learning plan.
In a private meeting via tele-conference with NCAE members, Cooper did nothing to urge NCAE members to support a return to the classroom and stop NCAE’s and other organized efforts to keep schools shut.
Efforts included trying to block the one day a week Union County students will be in class by holding up signs saying “dead teachers can’t teach, and dead students can’t learn.”
The NCAE vice president in Gaston County said her fellow teachers wanted to start the school year online and only allow kids back into classrooms once COVID-19 numbers drop to pre-March 16, 2020 levels. North Carolina had around 30 cases of Covid-19 on that date, and using that metric, children could be out of school for several years, if not longer.
Cooper stayed quiet as the NCAE bullied Wake County, the state’s largest school system in the state. Wake was one of the first counties to adopt a return to school under plan “B,” then reversed course and adopted remote only learning. The only rational explanation was pressure from the NCAE.
There is a real danger for Black and brown lower-income students to be in an even worse place academically, socially and emotionally as a result of this,” said Letha Muhammad, director of the Raleigh-based Education Justice Alliance, in an interview with the News and Observer.
As reported by the Port City Daily, “South Brunswick High School senior LaJuan Daniels shared with the Brunswick board how disappointed he was to be prevented from returning in-person. Daniels reminded the board of the burden of the remote decision puts on parents and older siblings and the financial dilemma many families are facing.”
“As I sit here looking at you guys today, you’re not even six feet apart. Let’s be honest here. But you won’t [let us] go back to school to get an education. It’s hard. I almost want to cry,” Daniels said in an interview with the Port City Daily.
But Daniels should blame Gov. Cooper. Who by any objective standard, his own words and goals has failed Daniels, his parents, and the state of North Carolina miserably.