However, parents of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school children have no such guardian angel and now have less clarity about if or how their children will return to school this fall.
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Roy Cooper says students returning to school as expected on August 17 is no longer a given:
“With North Carolina’s COVID-19 numbers reaching new highs, Cooper warned the public Monday that public school building openings set for August could be delayed unless health precautions are taken seriously by everyone.”
“We very much want to open the school buildings, but we won’t open them and make a reckless decision when it’s so important,” said the governor.
Gov. Cooper released a 26-page complicated set of mandates and guidelines that included plans for:
- minimal social distancing
- moderate social distancing
- remote learning
The misnamed moderate social distancing plan would require students and staff to be kept six feet apart at all times in school facilities and would mandate that school facilities and buses be capped at 50% capacity.
Parents from across North Carolina reacted viscerally to a recent Civitas article outlining what that requirement would mean for 1.5 million children attending public schools if ordered by Gov. Cooper.
The article noted plans under consideration include:
- Strict social distancing standards for students that would require instruction from home two days a week via computer.
- Attend school in person two days a week.
- Canceling all extra-curricular activities including sports, arts and after school programs, at least initially.
School districts across the state are already preparing for the reality of those plans:
According to the Greensboro News and Record, Guilford County Schools:
“…are looking at what it would take for each student to have 44 square feet of space — a square with roughly 6.6-foot sides….and devising an alternate schedule where not all students are at school at the same time.”
If schools do reopen even at the minimum social distancing standards, students will be screened with temperature checks every single morning. Schools will be forced into awkward social distancing routines and will have cumbersome regulatory directives just to operate.
Many parents wrote to Civitas about why they view these Cooper proposals draconian and unworkable in their own lives:
A teacher in Davidson County, wrote in on behalf of herself and her husband who is also a teacher. She has concerns about her own children and the impact on the children she teaches:
“My son is going to be a freshman in high school and was very excited to be in the marching band. He is hoping to get a scholarship for college by doing this. If no sports, then no band. That is NOT ok!”
On the alternating days and split schedules, she added:
“I think it is ridiculous. Even when we closed schools at first, daycares were still open. If kids can be in daycare, they can be in school. Students have to have in-person connections.”
A Brunswick County School Board member shared their concerns about the alternating schedules:
“I do not believe they [the proposed guidelines] are reasonable or practical. I would like to see as normal a school day as possible in comparison to what has been the previous ‘normal.’ I know this would have a negative impact on our community as a whole. There needs to be some semblance of cohesiveness in school. Whether it is to gradually add activities or class time, but there has been so much disruption already and kids and parents need consistency. I have many friends who would not be able to manage an optional schedule. I don’t think many people could do that.”
Nicole, who has a 4th and 11th grader in the public school system, said:
“It would be terrible. Consistency is important in education and in all areas of life and this sort of plan would destroy consistency and create havoc in my home and work life. It is already hard enough to be a working parent.”
She is concerned that her 11th grader who plays two varsity sports and hopes to play these in college could have those opportunities taken away.
On June 8, The North Carolina High School Athletics Association announced high schools can begin offseason workouts for possible competition next season, provided there is no contact with other athletes or shared equipment like balls. However, many school districts like Wake and Mecklenburg have delayed athletes’ return to campuses until at least July 6. Gov. Cooper is set to announce if schools can re-open and under what level of standards on July 1.
However, there is no clear indication that sports will be allowed to return as normal in the fall. The biggest concern being high school football. Football and social distancing do not mix, and Friday night football pays the bills for all other high school sports.
North Carolina High School Athletics Association Commissioner Que Tucker said: “The possibility of moving fall sports seasons altogether would be a last resort. The association would look at either delaying or shortening seasons before considering altering when particular sports are played during the calendar year.”
When asked how they would manage alternating days, most parents, except for those who were already homeschooling their children prior to COVID-19, had extremely negative reactions:
“I have absolutely no idea whatsoever! The thought of having to deal with that puts me in panic mode! I’m a single mom with two jobs (well until this virus) one of which is a full-time job. My child is only 10 so can’t stay home alone. I can’t miss work but at the same time can’t afford childcare. You tell me how I could manage it?”
Nicole (mother of 6th Grader)
“This is a terrible idea! I’m a teacher in 2nd grade and I have a kid that is going to start kindergarten next fall and another that will start middle school. Balancing working every day at the school and have kids going to school skipping days will be worse than just continuing with remote learning,” said an Onslow County teacher.
“There is no way to manage this unless quitting my full-time job!!! With three kids on different schedules, it just is not manageable.”
Sharon (mother of several children in public school)
“I have no clue! My mother has cancer so she couldn’t help! My in-laws live an hour away!”
Mary Beth (mother from Sampson County)
Jennifer Hammett, mother of four students in the 11th, 7th, 4th and 1st grades from Nashville, NC says:
“I have no idea! This would be impossible for our family. We have worked to ensure our children are in good schools. We love our schools and amazing teachers! It’s too bad that the politics and bureaucracy get in the way from those teachers giving our children an even better education. These proposals would be devastating to North Carolina’s teachers and children!”
Bottom line: On Monday June 8, 2020, Gov. Cooper held a press conference. The end result was students and parents have less certainty about how they will return to the classroom on August 17 — if at all. High school athletes have no idea if they can compete this fall, and if so, how.
Parents have even less information on how to plan their lives than they did before.
At 79, actor and singer Frankie Avalon, who charted 31 U.S. Billboard singles from 1958 to 1962, can no longer be considered the teen idol he once was. But North Carolina parents surely would welcome him reviving his role from Grease 42 years ago, giving us all guidance on what going back to school will look like. Sadly, our leaders are not willing to do that right now.