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All NC public school buildings will be closed until May 15 because of coronavirus

BY T. KEUNG HUI

 

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North Carolina public schools will remain closed through May 15 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

The state’s 1.5 million students have been home since March 16, when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all K-12 public schools closed through at least March 30. But Cooper extended the closures on Monday to May 15 and announced that he’s asked state education leaders and state lawmakers to work on a plan to educate students for the rest of the school year.

The closure means North Carolina students will be at home for two months. More focus is expected to be placed now on how schools can provide remote learning for students while they’re at home.

“I know this is extremely difficult for you (parents) and your children,” Cooper said at a news conference Monday. “But this is what we need to do to help slow the spread of the virus. I am committed to ensuring that our students get an education, as much of an education as they can this year.”

As of Friday, 45 states had closed schools and the remainder had closed at least some schools, Education Week reported. The decision has left more than more than 50 million students out of class.

Some states have ordered schools to close for the rest of the school year, with Virginia being the latest on Monday. But Cooper said Monday that he’s not ready to give up on reopening yet. Most North Carolina public schools have classes scheduled until June 12.

Cooper said the decision to reopen will be based on the guidance of health officials at the time.

The governor’s new executive order comes as the number of cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina has risen to more than 300, with many more expected. In addition to the school closures, Cooper’s new order bans gatherings of more than 50 people and ordered some businesses such as gyms, movie theaters and nail salons to close by Wednesday.

SCHOOL EMPLOYEES WORRIED ABOUT GETTING PAID

Cooper’s announcement raises questions for students, parents and public school employees.

A prolonged closure makes it challenging for school districts to pay hourly workers such as bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers. Some cafeteria workers and bus drivers are getting paid as part of the programs created to feed students who now can’t eat at school.

Cooper said he’s asked the State Board of Education to come up with a plan for paying all of the state’s public school employees during the closure. But Cooper said that it’s up to what’s provided in the state budget.

The N.C. Association of Educators backed Cooper’s decision on Monday while expressing worry about whether school employees would be paid.

“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,” Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, said in a statement. “We ask the State Board of Education and the Department of Public instruction to further clarify their protocols for educational professionals around employee pay and worksite safety, and call on them to provide the appropriate precautions, protections, resources, and tools that educators need to do their jobs during these incredibly difficult times.”

Cooper’s order closing school buildings applies to in-person instruction. Some schools will reopen to serve as emergency childcare centers for people such as healthcare and public safety personnel.

School districts have begun providing online resources for parents as they move toward digital classes for students.

“Teachers have been truly amazing in putting together plans for their students to continue learning during this unprecedented national crisis,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said at Monday’s news conference.

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