By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Monday requiring all North Carolina public schools to remain closed until May 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Previously the governor ordered schools closed through the end of March, but the new executive order means students and teachers will be out for at least nine consecutive weeks. Depending on advice from health officials, Cooper said, public schools in the state could attempt to reopen May 18.
Education leaders were already looking at what a longer-term closure would involve even before the governor’s announcement, North Carolina Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson said. Now, they’re preparing to put those plans into action.
“We already have teams who have started plans for schools and the legislative requests that will be necessary for everything that being out of school until May, or later, may require,” Johnson said during a live streamed press conference Monday. “Eliminating testing, calendar flexibility, educator and staff compensation, and making sure that if you are a student who was going to graduate in the Class of 2020 this June, that you still will be on track to graduate this June.”
The federal government announced over the weekend it would allow states to request waivers for mandated testing and accountability requirements. The North Carolina Board of Education decided Monday to apply for a waiver, officials announced.
Teachers have been “truly amazing” in putting together plans to keep their students learning in the middle of a national crisis, Johnson said.
“That great work is happening all across our state thanks to our dedicated educators,” he said.
As families began their second week of a now two-month shutdown, Johnson urged parents and guardians to set up a routine to help their children keep learning.
“My message to parents: if you haven’t already, now is the time to start a routine with your child. We cannot treat this as a long break,” he said.
Wake children up at the same time each day, have them go to bed at the same time each night, and have set times for learning and working on lessons. Take breaks for going outside to get fresh air while still practicing responsible social distancing, education officials advised families.
“We will get through this together,” Johnson said.
In Hoke County, teachers are using online resources like Google Classroom and video conferencing to continue educating students and even hold office hours. Thanks to the county’s “one-to-one” initiative, the school system already owned enough Chromebooks and iPads to send the devices home with all enrolled students. The schools were also looking at purchasing mobile wi-fi hotspots to help students who might not have internet access at home.
The local school system is also working to keep children fed during the state-mandated closure. Hoke County Schools delivered 47,698 meals to students last week, using school buses and staff volunteers to deliver breakfast and lunch to bus stops across the county.
“Thank you to our cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and every single employee who made our Mobile Meals possible,” the school system posted on its Facebook. “Amazing teamwork! We’re so thankful that we can continue serving our students and families during this stressful and uncertain time.”
The meals are provided at no cost out of pocket to families. Children ages 2 to 18 years old, whether or not they are enrolled in Hoke County Schools, can get a meal. The program is being paid for through the United States Department of Agriculture’s summer feeding program, rather than the national school lunch program.
Families who are unsure where to go to get meals for their children should contact the child’s school for information on their nearest bus stop location for meal delivery. The meals are prepared in school kitchens by child nutrition staff members.
Elsewhere in the state, schools have set up more than 1,000 meal distribution sites and given away more than 1 million meals to children, Johnson said.
The school system plans to continue both its meal deliveries and virtual classrooms, Hoke County Schools Public Information Director Jodie Bryant said Monday.
“Things are going exceptionally well, both with our mobile meal deliveries and our remote learning. At this time, we are going to stay the course with the plan we already have in place,” she wrote in an email. “Our teachers and staff did a tremendous job of creating an online remote learning plan that will keep our students engaged in their learning. So although our school buildings are closed through May 15, teaching and learning will continue.”
Hoke County Schools will still observe spring break next week, March 30-April 3. During that week of spring break there will be no remote learning and no mobile meal deliveries. The deliveries and remote learning will continue after spring break, Bryant said.
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