Classroom learning as North Carolina’s public school students know it won’t resume this school year, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday.
Cooper and state education officials outlined in a news conference plans to draw the current year to a close through distance learning and a grading policy designed to avoid penalizing students for the abrupt closure of school campuses on March 16.
"It's such a confusing time to be a child. And a hard time to be a parent, especially a working parent," Cooper said. "Today we've had to make another tough choice. We've decided to continue remote learning for the rest of the year for our K-12 schools.
“School classrooms may be closed, but the learning is not over. We don’t make these decisions lightly, but it is important to protect the health and safety of our students and school staff.”
Remote instruction will continue both online and through paper packets, much as it has since mid-March, until the scheduled end of the school year. Cooper previously declared schools closed until May 15 in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The last day for Moore County Schools currently is June 5.
Officials acknowledged the ongoing efforts of teachers, administrators and school support staff in keeping students engaged — and in some cases fed — despite campus closures.
“I’ve seen so many examples of creative teaching our educators are doing right now: music videos, carpool parades, online charades, checking in on students who need extra attention. It’s so comforting during these unprecedented times,” Cooper said.
State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said that teachers will continue to work, hourly employees are eligible to be paid, and that local school districts should “take full advantage of remote work.”
Moore County Schools’ ongoing “continuity of learning” plan requires teachers at all grade levels to contact all of their students or their parents at least twice a week. They’re also establishing two hours each day that they’re available for communication with parents and students.
Instruction, assignments and grading have continued in some form for middle and high school students, who have personal school-issued computers. Optional digital learning and paper packet materials are available for elementary students, who may or may not have computer access.
After the governor’s announcement on Friday, Moore County Schools Superintendent Bob Grimesey said that teachers and staff throughout the district will see out the transformed school year and begin planning for school to reconvene later this year.
“Our teachers will continue their diligent efforts to provide our students with remote learning opportunities that are the envy of most school districts across our state. Our child nutrition workers and transportation employees will continue to work with the Boys and Girls Club and our other community partners to sustain a student feeding program,” he said.
“Our counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses will continue to reach out to our students and families to support their health, welfare and focus on learning.
“Our (information technology) support personnel and digital integration facilitators have worked tirelessly to expand our students' access to on-line learning and to support our teachers' ability to deliver those learning opportunities. Our maintenance and custodial staff will continue to use this time to advance the quality of our facilities. Our administrative staff members will continue to pay our bills, file our reports and meet our regulatory requirements.
“Our principals and our district-level leadership team will continue to plan for the ever-changing variables that will need to be addressed for that time when our students will return to our schools.”
No determination has been made on whether or not high school graduation ceremonies might still take place later in the summer. On Thursday, Cooper announced a plan to gradually relax restrictions if the state sees a decline in new coronavirus cases and related deaths. That plan involves lifting the cap on mass gatherings over time.
On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved spring semester grading guidelines stipulating that students should be promoted to the next grade level unless plans were already “well underway” to retain them on March 13.
For spring semester courses, high school students will receive the grade they held as of March 13, unless they improve it by the end of the year through remote learning. Students in grades nine through 11 will have the option of choosing a numerical grade, a simple “pass,” or withdraw with no credit for that course.
Seniors graduating this year will not see their grade point average affected by spring semester course grades, which will be issued on a pass/fail basis based on where they stood as of March 13. Students who weren’t passing on that date can still earn a passing grade through online learning to receive course credit. Otherwise, they’ll be withdrawn from the course and it won’t appear on their transcript.
For year-long courses, high school students’ grade point averages will be influenced based on their performance in the fall semester only.
Students also will have the option of receiving a passing grade for the semester, based on their course grade as of March 13. Students who were not passing as of that date will be able to raise their grade to a pass or a passing numeric grade. Otherwise, the course will not appear on their high school record.
The state board ruled on Thursday that elementary students won’t be receiving year-end grades at all. How they receive feedback from their teachers will be determined by each individual school district.
All middle school students who were passing their classes as of March 13 will receive a year-end passing grade. Students with less than a passing grade in any course at that point have until the end of the year to improve their grade through remote learning. Otherwise, they can withdraw — which won’t be considered the same as failing and won’t automatically result in being retained at their current grade level.
Middle school students taking high school level courses will have the same grading options as high school students with respect to those courses.
“No grading policy will completely address equity issues that exist across our state during these challenging times, especially when our educators cannot be physically present with their students each day and while many students struggle to access remote learning opportunities,” Davis said.
Cooper said that when and how students open this summer and fall for special programs, a potential “jump start” to help younger students catch up after this year’s disruption, and the fall semester, will “depend on meeting health guidelines that will be established later."
“Already we know that even the next school year will not be business as usual,” he said. “There will be new measures in place to protect health when school buildings open again next year. This pandemic will be with us for some time, but I have every confidence that we will find a way to get schools open safely in the new school year.”
Davis said that North Carolina’s public schools will “pivot” from a reactive position to continue providing services remotely and prepare to get students back into classrooms in late summer and fall. Some students may get an early start on the 2020-2021 school year, but specific plans will be ironed out later.
“That program is focused at this point on the early grades and on literacy, and depending on funding we hope to expand that opportunity to more grades and more students,” he said.
“Now, more than ever, we will guard and maintain the right of a sound basic education for every child in our North Carolina public schools. This public health crisis has necessitated innovation and educators throughout North Carolina have without hesitation answered this call.”