MARY ANN WOLF: Safety, equity and resources are key to begin N.C. school year right

Monday, July 20, 2020 -- There are three key priorities that must be at the forefront in order to safely begin the 2020-21 school year in North Carolina.Those are: SAFETY of our students, teachers, staff, and families; EQUITY in access to robust, meaningful learning opportunities; RESOURCES & FUNDING to support fall plans.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf's "Final Word" from the July 18, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters -"COVID-19's Impact on Public School Funding." Wolf is president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.
Some may have hoped that last week’s news provided by Gov. Roy Cooper might have simplified the complexity school districts face as they prepare for the Fall and work to provide options for families while keeping students, staff, and families safe.
While the governor’s statement that schools will operate under Plan B with additional modifications intended to keep students and staff safe certainly provided parameters for our next steps, the reality is that our leaders are being asked to make the absolute best possible decision about our upcoming school year within an incredibly complex situation. We all crave getting back to normal - and none of the scenarios before us will provide that.

As education leaders gather guidance and data to make tangible and very real decisions for students, staff, and families, we again and again see our districts and schools pulling together in an effort to ensure new, safe learning environments for our students.

As families wrestle with their choices, which at this point include a blended learning environment that includes face-to-face and remote learning, or an entirely virtual learning option, many educators are expressing significant concerns about having to return to physical classrooms.

We cannot let unstable or unpredictable budgets get in the way of our educators being able to meet the needs of our students and keep themselves and our students safe in the process. We must consider what it takes to provide effective learning opportunities for students in hybrid or remote learning environments.

As Patrick Miller, Mike Lee, and Alan Duncan discussed on “Education Matters,” this includes asking our state leaders to hold districts and schools harmless for their budgets -- even if they experience temporary decreases in enrollment due to COVID-19, and ensure districts have the additional funds necessary to provide sufficient protective gear and access to Broadband internet, as this has become an essential utility for functioning in our world.

Access to high speed internet is now the primary gateway to accessing a sound basic education during this pandemic, and the provision of a sound basic education is our constitutional obligation to every citizen in North Carolina.

It is clear to me that there are three key priorities that must be at the forefront in order to safely begin the 2020-21 school year in North Carolina.

Those are:

  • Safety of our students, teachers, staff, and families;
  • Equity in access to robust, meaningful learning opportunities;
  • Resources and funding to support fall plans.
As our guests this week confirmed, there is nothing simple or straight-forward about this work, but keeping safety, equity, and resources at the forefront of our planning and decisions is critical to the huge responsibility of caring for our staff, families, and kids as we continue to battle the impacts of COVID-19

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