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Gov. Cooper closes NC schools for the rest of the school year

Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that he is closing schools for in-person instruction for the rest of the school year. Remote learning will continue.

He said he is confident the state will find a way to reopen schools in the fall and that when school buildings reopen, measures will be in place to keep students and staff safe.

“Classrooms may be closed, but the learning is not over,” Cooper said. “We do not make this decision lightly. But it’s important to protect the health and safety of our students and our school staff.”

He said that private schools will make their own decisions about reopening. The governor’s order only applies to public schools.

Joining Cooper at the press conference was state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis.

Johnson praised the work that people are doing to continue teaching in the time of COVID-19 and offered a note of encouragement.

“We commend our educators, school staff, and parents across the state as we have had to adapt immediately,” he said. “But this will not be the new normal.” 

Johnson said that up until now, the state has had to react, but that plans are in the works for next year that will be “proactive.” He said the plans are bipartisan and that he will make an announcement about them next week.

Davis said that news of the school closures for the rest of the year will not deter the state from fulfilling its obligation to students.

“In light of today’s announcement, we are now more than ever resolute in our mission to forge ahead,” he said. “Now more than ever, we will guard and maintain the right to a sound basic education.”

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, released a statement supporting Cooper’s decision after the press conference.

“While the school buildings remain closed, the education and learning will continue. Our educators continue to be on the front lines of this pandemic providing new remote learning opportunities and essential nutritional and emotional support, and we appreciate local school districts adhering to the more stringent personal protecting protocols and social distancing guidelines,” he said. “I know this is an extremely difficult time for everyone, but if we all stay safe and healthy, we will come out stronger on the other side.”

According to a press release from North Carolina Public Schools, the state has also canceled its June 2019 contract for a Read to Achieve diagnostic tool with Istation, in part because of the governor’s announcement. The press release said that a new process to procure a reading diagnostic tool for the 2020-21 school year will start immediately.

As part of the Read to Achieve legislation, a diagnostic tool is necessary to measure the progress of students. The contract for that tool went to Istation, but it has been the source of a lot of contention. Amplify — a competitor in the bidding process — took issue with how the procurement process happened and the state Department of Information Technology has been reviewing how Istation was chosen.

At today’s press conference, Cooper also announced a budget package developed with the goal of bipartisan consensus with the General Assembly, which meets next week for its short session. He said his budget package amounts to $1.4 billion from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. North Carolina has already received more than $2 billion as part of the act that can be used by the legislature..

“I’m recommending a strong investment to respond to this unprecedented crisis,” Cooper said.

The budget package includes $78 million for school nutrition and $243 million for public schools for things like enhancing remote teaching and implementing the Summer Bridge/Jump Start program for disadvantaged students.

In addition, the budget package includes about $77 million for higher education, with a portion of that going to community colleges to support online offerings and student tutoring.

Below is the money report for the budget recommendations.

Also included in the provisions of the governor’s budget recommendations is a section that includes instructional hour and calendar flexibility for school districts.

The provision would let school districts figure out how to make up days lost to COVID-19. It would also let them decide what kind of credit to give for remote learning when the school year is over, and it would waive any requirements related to instructional days and hours.

See the provisions below.

Cooper said that lawmakers have seen all of his plans already, and that the budget package was developed in part with input from legislators, though he said his proposal may not exactly match what lawmakers have been planning.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.