North Carolina is not recommending “preemptive closure” of schools in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, Mandy K. Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHSS), said Friday.
“However, things are changing rapidly,” Cohen said in an afternoon news conference. “We are both looking at the science, the advice from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) but also what’s happening around our communities, getting feedback from our superintendents, understanding what our other state partners are doing. We need to take in all of that input as we make decisions.”
Cohen’s remarks come a day after Durham Public Schools (DPS), Orange County Schools (OCS) and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) announced schools will close for several weeks beginning Monday.
Cohen noted that new CDC guidelines do not recommend preemptive closures.
But nationally, the number of state that are closing public schools is growing.
Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington State and the District of Columbia have ordered schools closed.
“We’re going to be taking in a lot of inputs, including understanding what our state partners are doing,” Cohen said. “We want to be on the phone with folks in Virginia and Maryland to understand their decisions.”
Cohen said closing schools can have lots of unintended consequences.
For example, she said 40 percent of school children are cared for by their grandparents, while the children’s parents work. The virus is especially dangerous to the elderly.
“How many of our kids are going to be with grandma and grandpa, understandably because mom and dad have to go to work, and then, are we putting grandma and grandpa at higher risk,” Cohen said.
Educators also worry that children who rely on school lunches will go without meals. They also worry about lost instructional time for students who don’t have access to the internet to participate in e-learning planned by some districts.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson told state leaders attending a meeting of the Governor’s Novel Coronavirus Task Force on Thursday that parents with the means to keep their children at home are frustrated that schools have not closed.
District leaders have said e-learning opportunities will be provided while schools are closed. However, e-learning in rural districts could be more challenging.
“If, heaven forbid, we have to make the decision to close schools, we will also then have to hear from parents who struggle to keep their children at home, who might not have the internet connection,” Johnson said.
More K-12 districts could follow DPS, OCS and CHCCS, as the virus continues to spread. Many of the state’s universities, including the UNC System, are providing only online classes to help contain the disease.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction shared this information Friday about North Carolina students and teachers and their ability to access mobile learning devices:
- The state does not have accurate data on device or internet access for school staff.
- 850 (32%) schools do not have enough computers for every student.
- 1,816 (70%) schools do not have a device for each student across all grades.
- 2,204 (80%) schools do not have programs in place to send devices home for all grades.
- 1,294 (49%) schools do not have alternate accommodations for students without internet.
- 295 (11%) schools do not have a digital learning management system.
- 485 (18%) schools report 50% or more of their students do not have internet access at home.