Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
School districts across North Carolina are finalizing their 2020-2021 school calendars – which will look a little different this Fall in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic. In addition to new start and end dates for the school year –students in NC will have five days of remote learning during the school year, as required by a measure recently passed by state lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper.
During the May meeting of the Macon County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin announced that the district will be converting five teacher workdays to virtual learning days to meet the new state mandate. In the event of a resurgence of COVID19 – the virtual learning days can be utilized to minimalize an interruption in instruction. If school is able to be held without any missed days next year, the virtual learning days will serve as practice for future needs.
Districts across the state were given the chance to develop individual plans for the virtual learning days, which have to be submitted to the state for approval before July 20. Based on individual district needs, the virtual learning days can benefit overall instruction. Dr. Baldwin said that the virtual learning days in Macon were stacked in the second semester, which is when the district typically sees inclement weather.
“If we were to have to miss school on February 9 due to winter weather, and we have a virtual learning day scheduled for February 12, then the 9th can become a virtual learning day, and then the 12th would be regular instruction,” Dr. Baldwin explained. “That way we don’t miss a class day due to winter weather.”
The last month of schools across North Carolina were transitioned to remote learning with teachers having to virtually alter entire lesson plans to cater to online or at home learning. For many students in Macon County, that was easier said than done, as around 50 percent of Macon students lack basic access to internet. Hot spots were established around Macon County for students to link to – but that required parents being able to drive to parking lots such as the one where Big Lots is located to access the WiFi.
Recognizing the struggles of rural broadband as it relates to public education future needs, Representative Kevin Corbin informed a group of county and town leaders Friday afternoon that the state approved additional millions of dollars for the NC GREAT grant program, which provides grant programs to existing rural internet providers to expand internet.
In addition to the five virtual learning days, which are currently scheduled for October 5 & 19, February 12, March 12 & 26, the state requires local districts to submit a remote learning plan and include the following items:
▪ Consult with teachers, administrators, instructional support staff, parents, students and community partners in developing and communicating remote learning plans.
▪ Survey students and teachers on home connectivity and provide remote instruction that is appropriate for those with limited connectivity.
▪ Teach and provide practice opportunities for students on using remote learning platforms, including how to locate, complete and submit assignments.
▪ Communicate learning targets to students on each remote instruction day, including a process for monitoring the quality of remote instruction materials.
▪ Ensure remote instructional time supports learning growth. This includes providing work measurement guidelines and deadlines for submitting work.
▪ Ensure students with disabilities have equal access to the remote instruction provided and that it’s provided in a manner consistent with their IEP or 504 plan.