By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
After a delayed decision, Governor Roy Cooper announced on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 14 that public schools in North Carolina will be opening this fall on a limited basis.
In a press conference at 3 p.m., Governor Cooper pointed to the consistently climbing rates of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina. The state has seen a significant rise of late. Since the Governor’s announcement to maintain Phase 2 on June 26, there has been more than 30,000 new cases reported. On that day, there were 58,818 cases. As of July 14, there have 89,484 positive results in the state.
In the same press conference, Governor Cooper also announced that North Carolina would remain in Phase 2 of the reopening schedule.
“Today, we announce that North Carolina schools will open for both in-person and remote learning with key safety precautions to protect the health of our students, teachers, staff and families. This is the Plan B that we asked schools to prepare.”
Governor Cooper mentioned that while ‘Plan B’ is the decision, it is not the only option for individual students and schools.
“As a part of this plan, we want local school districts to provide a remote learning option for any child who chooses it. In addition, school districts will have the option of Plan C – all remote learning – if that’s best for them.”
Governor Cooper said that they will be rolling out plenty of safety regulations to go with this decision. “Face coverings will be required for every teacher, staff and student from kindergarten through high school. The studies have shown overwhelmingly that face coverings reduce disease transmission.”
Governor Cooper said to help with this policy, the state will be providing five facemasks to every student, teacher, and staff member at the schools. He continued by saying this plan can change. If COVID grows at even higher rates, there is a chance that the school year could be moved to remote learning before the semester is over.
Cherokee Central Schools Superintendent Michael Murray said this move was not a tremendous surprise for him, and that he is confident that his staff can handle anything moving forward.
“Fortunately, Cherokee Central has been working diligently for weeks on a Plan B schedule,” said Superintendent Murray. “Because we are so unique. Our system, being that we are a separate nation basically, and we have a different type of campus – we should be able to do a Plan B safer than any of our competition,”
There was already a plan in place to operate the beginning of the school year on an A/B schedule. Now, that will need to be adapted for the full semester and further detailed.
The CCS Board of Education has its next meeting planned for Monday, July 20. Murray said that his plan is to gather everything he can to be ready for that meeting and to have the Board finalize the plan for the semester.
“I think what’s important is that our School Board be given all the information they can as we work through this together. So, my goal this week is to really, now that we know that the Governor is going that direction with the surrounding counties, we’re going to continue on with our plans. However, I’m going to make sure that we have some accurate data to give [the Board], especially some suggestions from our local health department. Vickie Bradley will be working with us to give us some insight into our plans. I’ve reached out to the Chief. I think it’s important for our School Board to hear from all our stakeholders.”
Superintendent Murray said that this will be difficult, but if everyone is on the same page it won’t be impossible. “That’s the main thing, I want to make sure we are prepared to bring the kids when we bring them. So, we’re going to be meeting with our staff this week and tiding up some time frames. It’s really important to me to get out to parents that because of the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, that we are going to come up with a plan but it maybe that we have to change course or times without a whole lot of advanced notice.”
“We want people to be as patient as possible as we navigate through these uncertain times.”
A major issue moving forward for all North Carolina schools will be the remote learning aspect of Plan B. With Cherokee’s A/B schedule, half of the school’s students will attend in-person class on alternating days. During the time they are not in school, remote learning will be required.
That means access to internet and other resources. Those amenities are not always guaranteed, especially not in more rural areas. Superintendent Murray said that he has been in contact with departments in the Tribe (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) about this issue, and that he knows the Chief is working to find the best solution for CCS.
“We have had discussions, and we recently just had some discussions with the Emergency Management folks. Mollie [Grant] was kind enough to meet with me yesterday. We’re talking a lot about communication and how to make sure that we’re reaching a lot of folks. I think it is important for equity purposes that we do everything we can…now’s the time for all of our partners to pick up the pace when it comes to increasing that connectivity out there,” said Superintendent Murray.
He said that he is intent on pulling in all the resources he can to keep the kids and his staff as safe as possible. More on the school’s plans will be coming out as that information is received and when the School Board convenes.
“The unknown is what is really scaring folks and we all want to do our best so that they have confidence when they drop their children off that we are not only protecting them, but we’re doing everything in our ability to make sure we return them COVID-Free,” said Superintendent Murray.
In a press release to the One Feather, Superintendent Murray outlined the following:
As you are aware, COVID-19 has not only impacted the health of our community and nation, but has presented many challenges as it relates to the education of our students. Cherokee Central Schools has been working to develop a number of scenarios designed to meet the educational needs of our community both face-to-face and virtually. Over the past months we have worked with administrators and staff to create an educational program that not only ensures continuity of education, but works to address technological inadequacies that are presented by geography. These plans have been created with the safety of our students, faculty, staff and community in mind. While we look to the Bureau of Indian Education, Tribal Leadership, local health authorities, the Office the Governor and NC Department of Public Instruction for guidance. It is important to know that our plan must meet the needs of our community and provide the safest environment possible for our students, faculty and staff.
We will be meeting with our School Board this Monday to review our “Return to Learn Transition” Cherokee Central Schools Return to School Plans. We will be sending out all possible start dates and information to parents as soon as our Board reviews and approves.
Because of the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, it is important to understand that while we have a plan in place it may be necessary to change course without advanced notice. I ask that you remain patient as we navigate the uncertainty of these times and ask for continued prayer for our school system as difficult challenges present themselves. It is a true pleasure to serve our children on the Qualla Boundary!
Mike Murray, Ed.D