This installment of NCED Updates covers Coronavirus news impacting schools nationally and at the state level. Various NC education and national headlines are also included.
All updates to this article are preceded by “Update” in bold.
Superintendent Mark Johnson addressed state leaders on coronavirus and schools on March 12 at Gov. Cooper’s press conference. The long and short of his remarks were: We’re not closing schools.
While Johnson’s remarks say they aren’t closing, that doesn’t mean the Dept. of Public Instruction is not preparing for such an event. Check out this “Resources and Information for Remote Learning” webinar that just took place. It’s all about remote learning and setting up virtual classrooms.
Local businesses are paying attention to the possible need for school-related internet connectivity. Check out this article: Charter to Offer Free Access to Spectrum Broadband and Wi-Fi For 60 Days For New K-12 and College Student Households and More
Cooper Admin call with schools shuts out press, DPI
Almost every state has Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in it. Several states have closed down school districts and yesterday Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all VA schools closed for two weeks – at least.
So far, NC Governor Roy Cooper has not ordered schools or districts to close.
UPDATE: As of a 4:30 pm press conference today, all NC schools are being ordered to close until the end of March per an Executive Order by Governor Roy Cooper.
Yesterday, Friday, March 13, Cooper’s education advisor held a call with district leaders to address questions about why the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was not recommending closing schools at this time.
The call was lead by Cooper staffer Geoff Coltrane and involved DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. Also on the call answering questions was Dr. Zack Moore, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical epidemiologist who is the Epidemiology Section Chief and State Epidemiologist.
The Cooper administration and DHHS refused to respond to press requests to listen in to the call.
I was able to confirm that the governor’s office and DHHS had also not included the Dept of Public Instruction or Supt. Mark Johnson. I was told directly by Graham Wilson, head of the Communications at the Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI) that they were not contacted and only learned the call was happening “second hand.”
After tweeting about a lack of access to this call of public interest, a state official sent me the call information and I joined the call already in progress.
The main thrust of the portion of the call I was able to listen to was getting the district officials “thinking of ways in which to increase social distancing.” Suggestions for more distancing included reducing the number of people in school cafeterias at any given time.
While answering questions, Dr. Moore repeatedly referred back to the CDC guidance for schools.
When asked about families who might have already been on Spring Break and had returned from a location that had a COVID-19 outbreak, Moore said they should “self-quarantine” and ” stay at home for 14 days.”
Coltrane asked districts to give feedback to the governor’s office with no mention of sending feedback to the State Board of Education or the Dept. of Public Instruction.
In addition, Coltrane said that Cooper’s office would “look at how we can share his guidance more broadly so that people can have more information about why the state and the CDC are not currently recommending school closure.”
When this call was going on from 3 to 4 pm, there were 15 cases across seven counties in the state. The counties involved were Cabarrus, Chatham, Durham, Forsyth, Johnston, Mecklenburg and Wake.
As of this morning, the number of COVID-19 cases has jumped to 23 across 12 counties, which now includes the counties of Brunswick, Craven, Harnett, Onslow, and Wayne.
Schools closing anyway
The state-level guidance not to close North Carolina schools hasn’t stopped some individual districts from doing it on their own anyway. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools and Durham Public school have closed temporarily. Lancaster County Schools have decided to close too.
The state’s largest district is also the location of the majority of COVID-19 cases in the state so far. As it happens, parents are not waiting around. Three days ago, a petition to temporarily close Wake County Schools was started and it has already gained over 26,000 signatures as of the publication of this article. UPDATE: A Fuquay Varina teacher has tested positive for COVID-19. Wake County has closed all schools until at least March 27. The district is also moving Spring Break, but the release does not say when.
Additional Wake County related updates will be published in a separate article.
Other districts are moving up their Spring Breaks to pad a temporary closure. Last night, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board decided to do just that. Iredell-Statesville is also extending spring break.
The main guidance for NC schools thus far boils down to this:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick
- Washing your hands often
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school
- Get plenty of sleep, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, eat well
There is a guidance section for those districts that do have COVID-19 cases in their community. That guidance basically says to consult their local health department officials before taking any official action.
If schools are dismissed, schools are supposed to consider the following steps:
- Temporarily cancel extracurricular group activities, field trips, and large events.
- Discourage students and staff from gathering or socializing anywhere.
- Ensure continuity of meal programs; consider ways to distribute food to students.
- Ensure continuity of education (What are the technical issues, how to do remote learning, virtual lessons, etc).
To continue education if a school is closed down, the guidance says for district officials to consultant relevant state or local partners for the following reasons:
- If a waiver is needed for state requirements of a minimum number of in-person instructional hours or school days (seat time) as a condition for funding;
- How to convert face-to-face lessons into online lessons and how to train teachers to do so;
- How to triage technical issues if faced with limited IT support and staff;
- How to encourage appropriate adult supervision while children are using distance learning approaches; and
- How to deal with the potential lack of students’ access to computers and the Internet at home.
The best source of information right now for the most up to date school actions or closures is your district level website or individual school website.
State and National Level resources:
- Dept. of Public Instruction COVID-19 Guidance
- CDC Guidance for K-12 School Districts
- NC Board of Education statement on Corornavirus & support of Governor’s EO
- NC Board of Education Resolution and EO Documents on Google Docs
- NC Board of Education Resolution
OTHER NORTH CAROLINA HEADLINES
- Review underway at Ardrey Kell to identify out-of-county students. Some students don’t even live in NC!
- NCAE’s Justin Parmenter gets a “Sunshine Day” award for public records requests and blog posts that contained enough false claims that it earned him a cease and desist letter.
- NHCS attorney Wayne Bullard resigns, citing ‘outrageous attacks’ against him, denies wrongdoing
- 37 North Carolina charter schools applied for part of a $36.6 million federal grant aimed at increasing the number of educationally disadvantaged students in charters.
- Wanna know what is in your kid’s school library? There’s a search engine for that.
- Solving The School Choice Transportation Puzzle
- School support staff have grown 2.7 times as fast as students since 1990.
- In Maryland, one district is redrawing school lines, resulting in kids being shipped all over in the name of Diversity. (Wake County, this fight is coming here if the Board gets its way.)
- The New York Times has finally admitted a key error/ in the 1619 Project. It disqualifies it from use in our schools.
- Erik Prince Recruits Ex-Spies to Help Infiltrate Liberal Groups & Teachers Unions
- The world’s Homeschooling Moment