The Pulse

North Carolina public schools to stay closed through May 15; state requests testing waiver

By: - March 23, 2020 4:30 pm
Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina’s schools will not reopen before May 15 because of  COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that he will sign an executive order to extend school closures until the threat of the contagious virus has subsided.

The governor announced March 16 that schools would be closed two weeks for 1.5 million North Carolina students in grades K-12. But few thought schools would reopen two weeks after Cooper closed them.

“I’m not ready to give up on this year of school, however we know that the effects of this pandemic will not subside anytime soon,” Cooper said during an afternoon press conference.

The known cases of coronavirus in North Carolina had grown to nearly 300 early Monday.

If schools reopen, they would do so on Monday, May 18, less than a month before districts operating on traditional school calendars are scheduled to close for summer break.

Cooper was joined by state health and emergency management officials, State Superintendent Mark Johnson and State Board of Education Vice Chairman Alan Duncan.

SBE Vice Chairman Alan Duncan

Duncan, a former Guilford County Board of Education chairman, said educators are optimistic. They want to believe schools will reopen May 18, he said. But schools will reopen only if public health officials say that it’s safe to do so, Duncan said.

Returning to school is especially important for members of the Class of 2020 concerned about graduation, Duncan said.

“We are working on that at both the state level and local level to ensure that you can have a smooth transition to the end of your high school career and [smooth] start to your continuing education or work career,” Duncan said.

Johnson asked parents to set a structure for their children to keep them learning and engaged.

“We can’t treat this as a long break,” Johnson said. “Your child doesn’t have to master calculus at home but help keep them engaged in their learning. Wake up at a reasonable time every morning, work on remote learning for a few hours every day, get outside – social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t get fresh air – and go to bed at reasonable time. Set a schedule and stick to it.”

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

He noted that the Department of Public Instruction has developed a website that includes resources for remote learning and that teachers and schools will provide options, as well.

“Resources for remote learning, both digital and physical, have been shared, and teachers have been truly amazing in putting together plans for their students to continue learning during this unprecedented national crisis,” Johnson said.

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) applauded the decision to keep schools closed.

“We know the decisions made thus far have been difficult to make, but ultimately the correct ones,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “Today’s announcement continues to move us in a direction that takes into consideration the safety and well-being of educators and students alike, and we believe it is ultimately the right decision.”

Jewell also asked the governor to clarify protocols for employee pay and work-site safety, and to provide the “the appropriate precautions, protections, resources, and tools that educators need to do their jobs during these incredibly difficult times.”

Testing waiver

Also Monday, the State Board of Education unanimously agreed to seek a one-year testing waiver in a special called meeting.

Tests waived for North Carolina’s students would include end-of-grade tests in reading and math in grades 3 through 8, science tests in grades 5 and 8 and end-of-course tests in Math 1 and 3, biology and English 2.

The waiver would also include the state’s A-F school performance grades as well as a number of elements included in the state’s School Report Cards.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Friday that states can apply for waivers due to school closures caused by COVID-19. States unable to assess students due to the pandemic will be granted a waiver from testing this school year after submitting the proper request.

“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” DeVos said in a news release.

She added: “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time. Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”

The SBE will also discuss an exemption from state testing requirements with leaders of the General Assembly.

“Chairman [Eric] Davis has already opened up some of those discussions with members of the legislature and let them know that in the wake of this submission [for a federal testing waiver], we’ll be coming to them with a full listing of state level accountability requirements, ties to bonuses, etc., that we would request waivers from, consistent with this waiver,” said SBE member J.B. Buxton, chairman of the board’s Student Learning and Achievement Committee.

Tammy Howard, state director of accountability services for NCDPI, said the department plans to submit its waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education, and should be processed within one business day.

The state needs the waiver because of the disruptions caused by the national emergency, Howard told the SBE.

“All assessments must be administered under conditions that ensure that these data are valid and reliable,” Howard said, “and we cannot do that at this time.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.