NC schools closed for rest of academic year, but ‘the learning is not over’

RALEIGH, N.C. — The doors of North Carolina schools may be closed through the rest of the school year, but remote learning will continue.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a news conference Friday that K-12 schools in North Carolina will stay closed through the remainder of the academic year as the state continues its battle with COVID-19.

The announcement comes one day after Cooper extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 8 and unveiled a 3-phase plan to reopen North Carolina.

Students were set to go back to school on May 15, but instead will be learning from home.

“School classrooms may be closed, but the learning is not over,” Cooper said.

The governor said the decision wasn’t taken lightly but it’s important to protect the health and safety of students and school staff.

Many anticipated Cooper would follow in the footsteps of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who earlier this week announced his decision to take public schools virtual for the remainder of the school year.

According to Cooper, he consulted with educators and parents to make the best possible decision for the well-being of the state.

Teachers and students switched to e-learning when North Carolina school buildings closed in mid-March.

The distance-learning environment has been a transition for all involved. Many parents are having to work while home-schooling their children and some are doing so without access to the internet.

“When we closed schools to in-person instruction last month, we knew it would be difficult for a lot of students, especially those who lack high-speed internet, good food or the safety and security that the school building offers,” Cooper said.

To help ease internet concerns, he said the state has partnered with AT&T and Duke Energy to provide over 150 WiFi hotspots to be used by school buses around neighborhoods.

The governor was joined by State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson who said the state is already planning for next year.

“In the next few weeks we will pivot from our initial stage of response to a readiness stage which will require our resources to continue to feed our children, remain connected to our students and to continue to provide support to our educators,” Davis said.

Cooper said the opening of schools in summer and fall, and the availability of summer camps will depend on meeting certain health guidelines.

“This pandemic will be with us for some time. But I have every confidence we will find a way to get schools open safely in the new school year,” he said.

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Leaders also released a proposed budget that directs $1.4 billion in federal money from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to help the state.

The budget package is intended to fund immediate needs in three main areas: public health and safety, continuity of operations for education and other state government services, and assistance to small businesses and local governments.

“We know people are hurting, businesses are struggling & governments are facing severe shortages because of this virus. That’s why we must act now to get resources distributed in a smart, efficient," Cooper said.

Cooper praised everyone impacted for their ability to adapt at a briefing Thursday.

“I am so proud of our teachers, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, our parents, people who are working so hard to make sure that children can get as much remote learning as they can get,” he said.

The governor’s remarks Thursday came at the same time the State Board of Education approved a new grading policy for students during the pandemic. Under the new policy, no students will get failing grades for the spring semester.

Students in Kindergarten through 5th grade will get year-end feedback from their teachers instead of a final grade.

Students in 6th through 8th grade will get a pass or withdrawal. They’ll receive the pass if they were passing as of March 13 -- or has improved to passing through remote learning.

They’ll get a withdrawal if they weren’t passing and didn’t improve, but that doesn’t automatically mean they failed -- it just means there’s not enough proof that the student successfully completed the course.

High school students have a choice of a numeric grade or a pass/withdrawal. The grade will help calculate the student’s gpa and the withdrawals do not impact it.

Students are encouraged to move on to the next grade unless there were already plans to retain them before school closed down.

Draft legislation that would waive certain tests for this school year and allow school districts to start next school year as early as August 17 is being sent to the House.

North Carolina joins a list of 35 other states that have made the call not to return to the classroom this year.

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