Alarm bells are going off for parents of public school children, as school administrators consider life-altering back to school plans

Published May 21, 2020

By Dallas Woodhouse

Catherine Truitt, a senior advisor on education during Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration and current candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, was addressing an on-line meeting of the Charlotte Uptown Women’s Club on May 13, when the conversation took an ominous turn.

Mrs. Truitt sounded the alarm bells over some of the proposals the State Department of Public Instruction was considering for public school students and their parents when classes return this fall. The reaction was shock, surprise and dismay when Truitt stated:

“In my talks with the State Board of Education, and this will really come down to what DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) says to the Governor, there will be no extra-curricular activities, there will be no sports, there will be no band, there will be no eating in the cafeteria and the schools will be at half capacity by sending the kids 2 days a week, kids will be on an AB Schedule.

And I don’t know how they are going to reconcile that with the fact parents have to work five days a week.”
Then Andrea Purcell of Charlotte asked:

“But this does not affect kids, why such an extreme stance?”

Mrs. Truitt attempts to explain DPI’s thinking by saying;

“Because kids can carry it.”

Ms. Purcell responded, “SO WHAT!”

And finally, Mrs. Truitt in the uncomfortable position of having to explain a policy that is not her own stated, “Well the kids can bring it to you.”

Finally, Ms. Purcell expressed the exasperation North Carolina parents could soon feel:

“Isn’t school more important? This is going to go on forever!”

This conversation could soon be held by the 1.5 million public school children and their parents if DPI’s life-altering plans fall into place. At this point nothing is certain, except working parents have much to be concerned about.

As first reported by News and Observer Education Reporter, T. Keung Hui, on April 28,  Gov. Roy Cooper and the chairman of the state board of education were openly discussing banning high school sports this fall.

In the fall sports season, football is key. Friday night football is not just a cherished tradition across North Carolina towns both big and small, admission fees are what pay the bills for many other sports, allowing them to take place.

On average 55-70 North Carolina high school football players accept full scholarships to major Division 1 college football programs each year. Many more when factoring in Division 2 and other levels of college football. Those opportunities will be in jeopardy if students are banned from taking the field this fall.

Further, the News and Observer reported that Cooper is considering closing all school cafeterias, forcing kids to eat in their classrooms, simply trading one health concern for another.

The changes would also ban many in-person academic support systems, including successful peer-to-peer tutoring and many study groups.

But nothing could be more life altering for millions of North Carolina parents than the idea of kids going to school on alternate days.

North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students could split their time next fall going to school on some days and learning from home the rest of the time to try to maintain social distancing, according to multiple published reports.  This could include going two full days a week or several half days a week. Either scenario would be problematic for working parents, and particularly challenging for parents with multiple school age children that could all be on different schedules making work/ home life balance impractical and making it impossible for some to stay employed.

“If you have parents with multiple children on different tracks,  that is not going to work,” said Harnett County Board of Education member Jason Lemons in an interview with Civitas.

Lemons said he finds the plans under consideration by DPI and the governor completely unworkable for parents and students.

“Social interaction is one of the requirements of public education, it is how they process information.”

Lemons is also deeply concerned that students across rural Harnett County will lose desperately needed opportunities that lead to scholarships in athletics, arts, and business pursuits.

“There are too many kids that have invested too many years to be at the scholarship level in extra circular activities, and it is not just sports.

We have a music teacher, he has been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall and he has helped develop students who have earned music scholarships, and without these opportunities schools will look the other way, it could be sports, the arts, cooking classes.

We had several that were invited to the Future Business Leaders of America last year, and that helped pursue scholarships. We are a rural county, and without these scholarships these kids may not go to college, or to the college that is the best for them. In time electronic socialization, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, we need to be promoting real life socialization, not electronic socialization.”

As a Democrat member of the Wake School Board with a background in public health, Christine Kushner brings a unique perspective to this difficult issue. Wake is now the largest school system in North Carolina with more than 191 schools and 161,000 students.

“I have heard from parents who want us to speed the re-opening, I have heard from parents who want us to slow it down. Things are fluid. The loss of athletics has really hit us hard in the last two months, really hard, and speaking as one board member I hope we phase in, athletics.

I will hope we play sports. Our coaches want to have these kids on the fields. Our teachers want things to get back to normal, but we can only do so much without the clearance of public health officials and the state.”

Mrs. Kushner also believes counties need more local control with decision making, something both left and right leaning local school board members agree on.

Kushner added “We have to balance the public health and the sense of community, the need for sports, the need for band.

We have heard a lot from parents who have young kids who are trying to balance everything, and we know it is difficult.”

State School Board Member Dr. Olivia Oxendine told Civitas she is pushing for preserving as many opportunities for students and options for parents as possible.

She believes North Carolina high schools need to play sports and offer a wide range of activities for students this fall and can’t adopt plans that keep parents from being able to work, something that would devastate her rural and economically challenged Robeson County.

Democrat School Board Member Patrick Kelly leads the Republican majority school board in Lee County. He said,

“Do we flatten the curve as much as possible, or do we open up? I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I don’t think the Governor has a silver bullet. I don’t think Dr. Cohen has a silver bullet. There are just no good answers. It is going to take ideas from both sides to get the economy going and keep people safe.

But Dr. Bob Luebke, Director of Policy for the Civitas Institute says there is a solution. 

“There needs to be a marriage of the wisdom of public health officials and the common sense and experience of everyday North Carolinians. Both sides need to trust the other.

If the science shows the students are not at particular risk, then parents do not need Gov. Cooper and the state to create havoc in their lives in the name of protecting them. The state should allow parents to return their children to school this fall as we traditionally know it; in-person instruction, sports, band, extracurricular activities along with reasonable precautions. For the families who are uncomfortable with this, who still desire a school education , the State Department of Public Instruction should select and  train some teachers in effective distance learning, offering families choices, letting them assume the level of risk with which they are comfortable, without further upending the lives of  parents and deepening the economic destruction across the state.”