By Eric Davis
COVID-19 has necessitated innovation. Educators throughout North Carolina, without hesitation, are answering this call. It is with great admiration that we express appreciation for district and school leaders for providing vision and direction, teachers for serving as education’s first-responders by maintaining critical connections while nurturing students’ social and emotional well-being. Countless child nutrition, transportation and other support staff are ensuring our most vulnerable students continue to receive nutrition meals.
As Gov. Cooper indicated, our schools will continue to play a critical role in response to this public health emergency. While school buildings will continue to be used strategically to address student needs (such as some schools continuing to serve as emergency child care sites for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response in coordination with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services) school employees will support students and provide supplemental remote learning opportunities until the scheduled end of each district’s respective 2019-20 school year.
Teachers and school employees are to continue to work and they remain eligible to be paid. Hourly employees remain important for instructional purposes and to fulfilling urgent emergency needs. Local leaders should continue to assign duties to our valuable classified staff members to keep them working. We need their help to continue to improve our emergency efforts. Teachers remain working and their efforts are vital for supporting our school children and their families. Districts should remain sensitive to employees’ particular health concerns, and CDC and NCDHHS public health guidance. Remote work is a viable option that we all encourage, and local schools should take full advantage.
The next few months will require us to pivot from our initial response to recovery. Recovery will require state and local leaders to identify and allocate critical resources. Resources will be necessary to support the availability of nutritious meals and provide opportunities to reconnect students who, in some cases, have experienced a significant pause in their instructional journeys. Resources will also be necessary to provide training and support for educators who have been challenged to rethink instructional design and delivery.
Only time will tell how our communities recover from this public health crisis. This will inform our decisions about how public education will be required to evolve to ensure we maintain our basic constitutional responsibility. Regardless, we know public schools are forever changed. Continued partnerships, communication and collaboration will help us take the necessary steps this summer to prepare for the new school year.
In light of today’s announcement, we remain forward focused. State and district leaders are already discussing options and planning for what reentry in the 2020-21 school year can look like and what resources will be necessary to support our students’ academic and social, emotional, and health needs.
North Carolina is home to seven majestic lighthouses, symbols of strength, hope for the weary, beacons of safety in rough waters. Like a mighty lighthouse, we will continue to stand our ground with an unwavering commitment to endure the challenges thrust upon us by COVID-19. We will rely on our resilience to maintain excellence in education while we continue to provide hope and needed support to the children, families and North Carolina’s public schools.
South Charlotte resident Eric Davis chairs the North Carolina Board of Education.