"Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children home."

American Academy of Pediatrics

Catherine Truitt's Approach to Re-Opening N.C. Schools

On July 1, Governor Cooper and state officials are expected to roll out a “one-size-fits-all” plan from Raleigh that will tell all 115 of North Carolina's public school systems and hundreds of public charter schools how they can re-open this Fall. Unfortunately, it will likely turn out to be a “one-size-fits-none” dictate that just won’t work for our schools and our students.

There is a better way. All students need and deserve a quality education experience this Fall.

What this looks like should not and cannot be dictated by a one-size-fits-all plan from Raleigh – it should be determined at the local level by local leaders, school officials and health officials with input from parents. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has proclaimed, “No child or adolescent should be excluded from school unless there is a local public health mandate or unique medical need."

North Carolina has 100 counties, 115 school systems, and hundreds of public charter schools.  Every county and every school system are being impacted differently by COVID-19, and each one faces different challenges when it comes to educating students.  They must be empowered to make the decisions that are right for them to ensure that EVERY student in their care has the opportunity to receive a quality education this Fall, regardless of their socioeconomic status. They must give their students hope!

No one understands the needs and challenges of their local community better than local officials, and no one cares more about a child’s health, safety, and education than that child’s parents.

My plan to re-open North Carolina's schools consists of three major points:

(1) Give Local Officials Control

Anyone who has ever traveled across our state understands that North Carolina is a large, diverse state.  What makes sense for one of our small mountain counties likely doesn’t make sense for our large urban counties. What makes sense for one rural county may not make sense for another. This is true for economic development, for public safety, for transportation, and it's true for education -- especially in terms of reopening our public schools in the Fall!

Local superintendents, school board members, county and city officials, and county health officials understand their counties better than anyone and are dedicated to what is best for their residents. We need to trust them to make the right decisions for their students, teachers, principals, support staff and parents.  We should give them the support and guidance they need to implement those decisions and ensure their students receive a quality, sound education.

Finally, local control means local control. Whether we are happy with what local leaders in an individual district decide or not, we must let them make the decision and provide them with the support necessary to successfully implement that decision.

(2) Give Parents a Voice

In recent weeks we’ve seen a report from the Governor, Secretary Mandy Cohen and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on what school might or should look like in the fall. We’ve seen a report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the State School Board, and we’ve seen reports from think tanks and from other states.

What I haven’t seen in any of these reports is what parents think school might or should look like in the fall.  I am a firm believer that no one cares more about a child’s health, safety and education than that child’s parents.

Parents need and deserve a voice in what school should look like this Fall.  

As local officials are making decisions about how to reopen schools in their local districts, it is imperative that they include parents throughout the process and actively seek input from a diverse cross-section of parents from all races and socioeconomic statuses.

Additionally, parents who don’t feel safe sending their children to school this fall deserve a real and meaningful digital learning opportunity that will allow their child to learn from home.

(3) Give Children Hope

More than anything, our children deserve hope - hope that they will receive a quality education, hope that they will receive an equal opportunity for success, and hope that they will be treated fairly regardless of their socioeconomic status, race or gender.

Sadly, many children were lacking that hope before the pandemic happened. Prior to COVID-19, two-thirds of North Carolina's 8th Graders were NOT proficient in reading and not proficient in math, and that number has been stagnant since at least 1998.

Now that COVID-19 has forced a shutdown of our school buildings and a transition to digital learning, these students and many more have even less hope and are getting left further behind. Digital learning just doesn’t work for them. In many cases they don’t have broadband internet access, they lack access to an internet-connected device necessary for digital learning, their parent(s) / guardian(s) all work, and they have no one to assist them with digital learning or to monitor them to ensure they are working.

This is disproportionately effecting students of color, students who are economically disadvantaged, and students in rural North Carolina. All plans for reopening schools this fall MUST be designed with a focus on these students, how we give them hope, and how we ensure they have a real opportunity to receive a sound, quality education that prepares them for the future.  We have a moral obligation to ensure ALL means ALL when it comes to ensuring ALL students in North Carolina have the opportunity to receive a quality, sound education.