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Closure of North Carolina schools extended

Gov. Cooper announces decision to postpone return through May 15

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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that the closure of North Carolina’s public K-12 schools has been extended to May 15.

On March 14, Cooper had already announced that all in-person public-school instruction statewide would stop from March 16-30 as part of Executive Order No. 117.

“I know that this is extremely difficult for you and your children, but this is what we need to do to help to slow the spread of the virus,” Cooper said during an afternoon press conference. “I am committed to ensuring that our students get an education and get as much education as they can this year.”

State Board of Education vice chair Alan Duncan said Monday that state leaders will be providing further details to local school leaders about what instruction will look like during the closure.

“We know that remote instruction is going to look different in communities across the state,” Duncan said. “Inequities in local resources and digital access further complicate matters. We will take all possible steps to mitigate these inequities and articulate the best practices.”

Local districts have been prepping

Cooper said that as of Sunday, more than 1,100 schools statewide have served more than 1.2 million meals since schools closed. Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties all have implemented locations for curbside meal pickup for any children under the age of 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and those options remain in place.

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Since last week, New Hanover County Schools has provided instructional packets for its students. Those are still available for pickup between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The distribution of electronic devices for high school learning will begin Wednesday. The district also has a social distancing learning tab on its website which provides resources for each grade level.

According to Brunswick County Schools spokesman Daniel Seamans, the district has checked out nearly 4,000 Chromebooks, laptops, tablets or other electronic devices since March 16. It is now up to individual schools and their staffs to check out additional devices through appointment. There are also online resources for students available on the district’s website, including explanations of how to access resources each student already had available to them at school.

Pender County offered educational packets and electronic device pickup at all of its locations last week. Parents are still able to contact their individual school to arrange a pickup.

According to a statement released following Cooper’s announcement, the district has installed Wi-Fi hotspots at the county’s three high schools: Pender, Topsail and Heide Trask, where district-issued devices can get online, allowing students to connect with teachers. Students can remain in a vehicle at those locations and access the internet in the parking lot.

The hotspots, which have a range of several hundred feet, are marked by an orange traffic barrel labeled “PCS Wireless Access.” These hotspots will be live from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week. Additionally, the Pender County Public Library in Burgaw also has an ATMC-provided public access point. At this time, only district-issued devices will be able to access the internet at these hotspots.

“Last Monday, a lot of students and their families picked up Chromebooks from our schools in anticipation of online learning becoming necessary. With help from our community partners, including ATMC, Four County Electric, the Pender County Government and NCDOT, we’re trying to make sure our students have the opportunity to access the information they need to keep learning,” Pender County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill said.

More statewide hopes

Duncan said the state superintendent and state board have sought a federal waiver of testing requirements and expect it to be granted soon. They have also been in close contact with general assembly members about the state-level waivers that will also be needed.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said seniors remain on track to graduate in June. Eliminating testing, calendar flexibility and educator and staff compensation are among the list of high priorities. He also recommended khanacademy.org as an additional, free resource parents can use to keep students engaged. Khan Academy is an international non-profit whose mission, according to its website, “is to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.”

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“We would like all of the school employees to get paid during the duration,” Cooper said. “I have asked the superintendent and state board to come forward with a plan to do that. We are talking to our budget people. We know that teachers are working. We know that there are people who are non-certified school personnel who are also working and we want to make sure that they get paid so we are going to be working with budget and hopefully come forward with a plan to see how we can do that.”

A few hours later, the N.C. High School Athletic Association released a statement that all athletics would remain suspended until at least May 18. Originally, athletics were suspended until April 6.

“While we remain hopeful that we will be able to resume competition, particularly for our senior student-athletes, we also recognize the need to protect the health and safety of our students, coaches and the communities we serve,” NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said in the statement.

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