Wednesday, July 1, North Carolina parents, students, teachers and communities were once again stymied by a lack of vision and understanding on the part of Governor Cooper as he announced he was delaying a decision on what plans he will be making on public school structures. It is time now for the local school administration and school board to take charge and show leadership rather than wait for the governor who continues to vacillate and make decisions without consideration of the consequences.
In early May the governor announced the schedule for the traditional school calendar would begin for teachers August 11 and that students would return August 17. In early June he presented the Strong Schools NC Toolkit describing three scenarios the state’s schools were charged to prepare for school operation based on COVID-19 statistics.
The three plans to be developed by the 115 local school districts are designed to control or hopefully stop the spread of the coronavirus among students, teachers and staff. Under plan ‘A’ students would return to their schools with spatial distancing as much as possible; extensive cleaning of the facilities on a very regular schedule and the restriction on social gathering, including elimination of meals in the cafeterias.
Under plan ‘B’, the governor has proposed a hybrid arrangement with students spending part of their school time in seated classrooms and a portion of time learning remotely, utilizing the same restrictions as detailed in Plan ‘A.’ Plan ‘C’ is the most restrictive, involving only remote learning with no seated classroom time in the schools.
Citing a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, Cooper announced last week he is delaying any announcement for school guidance until mid-July. That will be 33 days before students would return if the governor maintains the proposed schedule opening of Aug. 17.
Thirty-three days is not sufficient time for the schools, their teachers, parents, students and the community at large to prepare for implementation of any of the plans other than Plan ‘A. That plan is most manageable since it follows the standard school environment. But even that plan will prove to be both economically and structurally disruptive. Schools will have to bring on more personnel, purchase additional supplies and alter teaching schedules to accommodate spatial distancing in the schools.
Wake County, upon hearing the governor’s delay, announced plans to implement the Plan ‘B’ program. The traditional school students in Wake County will be divided into three groups with each group independently spending one week in seated classrooms and two weeks remotely learning.
The governor has boxed himself in by announcing the opening of school in mid-August. This has started the clock rolling for the state’s school districts. Precious time and money has been spent to prepare for this schedule and there is no surplus of either to be utilized as the governor continues to “kick the can down the road.”
Considering the unknowns that teachers, their students and parents are facing, the county school board should take a cue from Wake County and announce its plans regardless of the governor’s time table.
Unfortunately, the county school board and administration are involved in handling multiple internal crises in addition to the pandemic. In November the school board began a search for a new superintendent after the board made the situation untenable for then superintendent Matt Bottoms who announced his retirement at the end of the year. The county’s new superintendent, Dr. Rob Jackson, was selected by the school board the same day the board voted to discontinue its early college program, Marine and Science Technology (MaST) conducted at Carteret Community College. The planned closure of MaST resulted in the school’s principal, Deanne Rosen, announcing her resignation this week. Now the school board must find a principal who will oversee the slow dissolution of this highly prized and successful school program.
In addition to bringing on a new superintendent and a new principal for the early college program, the school board is preparing to sell taxpayers on a much needed school bond. And now the pandemic is totally disrupting every aspect of the public education environment for the county and the state.
The lyrics from the Rolling Stones song “Time Waits for No One,” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, has one reprise “Time waits for no one, no favors has he; time waits for no one, and he won’t wait for me” which applies to the situation the county faces.
The county school board and its administration need not wait for Governor Cooper. The teachers, parents, students and community need to know now what the plan is for the first semester of the traditional school year. If there are changes to be made at mid-course, so be it. But time and money is wasting and neither will wait. It is time for the county school system to make its announcement.