We Should Still Have “Snow Days” With Remote Learning

Teachers, students, and parents in our school system just received a call that school is cancelled tomorrow for inclement weather.

Not a call that said we would be fully remote because of a winter storm, but an actual “snow day” is being issued.

There has been talk that with the pandemic and the move to more remote learning there might be the chance that there would never be the need to actually have a “snow day” again for wintery weather.

But we should always have snow days – days where nature shows us just how beautifully powerful it can be while providing us with a real-life lab for exploration.

Not all snow days provide a picturesque scene or ideal conditions for outdoor play. Power outages and the need to keep warm or protect property and take care of other pressing needs that a storm can bring provide more compelling reasons to have “snow days.” To think that we are forcing families to adhere to a school day schedule while they are having to tend to weather related matters is adding to an already stressful situation.

If these days were already built into the school calendar, then we should use them even if there is a few inches of powdery snow and people still have power and connectivity. It becomes a chance for physical activity, time in nature, and a mental break from what has been a rather turbulent time.

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And maybe, just maybe it will get us to talk a little bit more about climate and climate change.

The NCGA Is Using The Pandemic To Favor Charters Over Traditional Public Schools

Remember that charter schools in North Carolina receive monies from local school systems where they reside, but local school boards have no jurisdiction over charters in their districts.

Doesn’t seem fair.

That preferential treatment by the NCGA has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Doesn’t include charters.

Today, this bill was filed.

Doesn’t include charters.

And remember this from last summer?

The Network for Public Education released a state-by-state list of charter schools that received Paycheck Protection Program loans in July of 2020.

This is the list of NC schools.

Almost 50 of the 184 charter schools in North Carolina received loans.

From the July 19th edition of the Asheville Citizen Times:

Charter schools occupy a blurry space between public schools and small businesses. They are free to attend and funded like traditional districts, with public money given for every student. Yet, charters are managed independently, autonomous from the traditional school district in which they reside.

In North Carolina, charter schools typically receive less local funding than their district counterparts, though unlike traditional public schools, charters aren’t obligated to provide students with transportation or free meals.

Last year, there were close to 200 charter schools in the state.

In addition to PPP loans, many charters received federal CARES Act funds. For example, Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte reportedly received a PPP loan between $2 million to $5 million while also getting $438,000 in federal CARES Act money.

In contrast, school districts only collected CARES Act relief.

“Our public schools are being thrown to the wolves,” said Renee Sekel, founder of the parent-run public education advocacy group Save our Schools NC. Sekel accused charters of “double-dipping” by acquiring both businesses loans and public school funds.

And this state still has no new budget.

The Thin Trojan Horse That Is SB37 – That “ReOpen” Bill

Of course Sen. Phil Berger wants this bill.

And of course he says that he wants to “reopen schools” when what really is happening is that schools are open already, just not all school buildings fully.

May be an image of text that says 'SCHOOL BUS It's time for all schools to reopen. Studies have shown that with mitigation efforts schools can reopen safely. SB37 does just that. NCSENATE FEFEREICANS'

Here is the link to that bill.

Seems like good intentions. It’s shiny. Nice veneer.

And unnecessary.

That ABC Science Collaborative which is referred to in the bill? It was easily debunked by Kris Nordstrom. Those “CDC mitigation efforts?” That includes six feet in social distancing which is incredibly hard for high schools when considering reopening buildings.

But there are some other glaring deficiencies in this bill.

IDEA The Individual With Disabilities Education Act. There is nothing in this bill to ensure that students who have IEPs and diagnosed learning / intellectual delays have the resources to help them learn in these unprecedented times. This pandemic has shown the glaring gaps in funding certain areas of public education: computers, connectivity, teacher assistants, and resources to make sure that students with IEPs can access the curriculum effectively.

Local control completely taken away. For a political unit that has always preached “local control,” this bill prevents local school boards from being able to close school buildings in whole if another surge occurs in certain localities. The CDC guidelines talk much about monitoring community spread. This bill seems to be posturing because levels of community spread still place a large number of counties (LEAs) in the red.`

Logistical nightmares. Think of school buses and lunch with proper social distancing. Is this NCGA really giving any more resources to perform these functions during a pandemic while obeying the CDC guidelines? Without providing a plan to deal with the logistics, this bill is only selling the simple and ignoring the complexities.

Nurses & Counselors. If the NCGA GOP is concerned that “children are suffering” and that the harm “can last a lifetime,” then they must also be aware that other issues that students have might be worth more attention.

Strips Cooper of Ability to React to Another Surge. What happens if another big surge occurs? This state might need the governor to react and set mandates to save lives. Just look what happened in Georgia and Florida, and Georgia just turned blue in part over how the pandemic has been handled.

But maybe the most dispicable part of this bill is that it highlights just how much this NCGA has not done in the face of pandemic for North Carolinians except just making an underfunded public school system the scapegoat for why things are not normal.

There’s a pandemic still happening and a LEANDRO Report that has not been acted on.

Actually Now Is The Time To Invest In NC’s Public Schools

When the country was in the grips of the Great Recession over a decade ago, public education in this state took some of the biggest cuts in funding – cuts that were never really restored as the economy regained momentum and rebounded. One only has to see the level of per-pupil expenditures in 2019-2020 compared to 2007-2008 when adjusted for inflation.

Even as the state was “enjoying” budget surpluses, an “economic boom,” and population growth in the last few years, people like Phil Berger and Tim Moore made sure to allow that the cuts to public education made during the Great Recession become the norm. They kept that reality cloaked under a veil of reform and political spin. Add to that massive tax cuts to corporations in this state that have benefitted a few rather than all in this state. Minimum wage continues to be at the federal “minimum,” Medicaid still has not been expanded, and over 20% of our public school students are at or below the poverty level.

And then we have this pandemic. For the sake of not spreading the virus, the state shut down school buildings, went remote, and we are still trying to get COVID-19 testing to a point where we can really ascertain the actual number of infections.

North Carolina was not prepared to go virtual on such a large scale in March. But we did it. Teachers, educators, and other classified employees still adapted and made learning possible. Schools still fed and provided community support where others could not.

This school year still is full of many questions – questions that really have no concrete answers – yet. But we must be willing to not only find ways of framing the questions, we must be willing to boldly find answers. So here is a question: How are we going to be able to create the safest environment possible for our students and teachers and still give them the best opportunity of learning when schools physically open up fukky?

And here’s a bold answer: it starts by investing in public schools.

Yes, invest more money in public schools.

Now.

Notice that it is not “spending” but “investing.”

“But we don’t have the money!” Actually, we can get the money to invest. Rep. Tim Moore has already talked about it.

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Now, one has to take what Tim Moore says with not just a grain of salt, but an entire salt block. He usually proposes what sounds like “friendly” and bi-partisan solutions to problems knowing full well that his counterpart in the NC Senate (Phil Berger) will probably obliterate it. It is kind of a “good-cop / bad cop” routine that has been playing out for years.

But what Moore suggested in that tweet is something to consider heavily for schools as a means of investing in our students: investments that will pay incredible dividends for years to come. And we have seen what damage not investing in our students has caused so far, even in the last eight years. In our recent economic boom, public schools have seen more students per class, buildings starting to erode, unfunded mandates, and money thrown at unproven educational reforms.

Not confronting what may happen with public schooling now will only cost exponential amounts later just to try and recoup what was “lost.” What really would be lost is not having made sure we did our best for students in real time because we were too busy worrying about having to “pay” for it.

Not making sure that public schools have now what they need to serve students will surely make us “pay” much more down the road.

A federal bond in this economy would mean taking out a loan guaranteed by the federal government at almost no interest. Using that to fund more personnel in schools like nurses, counselors, classified employees, teacher assistants, buildings to house more classrooms with fewer students each, and resources to maintain safety and cleanliness could benefit public schooling immeasurably.

Especially in 2021-2022 when the effects of the recent economic downturn really present themselves in teh country.

So what could be used in the meantime to make sure schools open up with as many people and resources needed to increase safety and academic engagement? How about that “rainy-day” fund that Moore and Berger keep bragging about? Considering all of those corporate tax breaks they have championed forced middle and lower income North Carolinians to shoulder the burden of building that “fund,” maybe it’s time to allow our citizens to benefit from it.

Furthermore, imagine the billions of dollars that we could have invested in schools if the state had not kept extending tax cuts to corporations. That money alone would have already alleviated some of the pressures in reopening schools before they were even realized and kept enough staff and resources to combat this massive obstacle more easily. Recalling some of those unneeded tax breaks can now be the basis of paying off the bond.

Private schools will probably lose students to the economic downturn as they did in the last recession. Those who are looking to keep their students at home for homeschooling for the first time will realize that homeschooling is not free. Many families cannot even begin to think of this option because both parents must work to make ends meet.  And there really exists no evidence that virtual charter schools have ever done well (certainly not in NC).

But public schools are there and can remain not only viable but can regain its place as one of the strongest in the Southeast if we as a state invest in them.

Now.

It will be argued that we cannot even think about putting more of a burden on taxpayers to foot a bond initiative. Well, you can choose to not invest anything now and then spend the next decade “spending” much more money just to try and regain what was lost both monetarily and academically.

And investing more in public school now will give parents and caregivers a little more ease concerning sending students back to schools when they reopen as well as time and energy to invest in their families’ welfare in a time when we all need to recover.

Got to Have Six Feet – Sign The Petition For New Hanover Schools

From the petition found on this link:

New Hanover County Schools Must Follow All CDC Reopening Guidelines

On Feb 12, 2021, the CDC released updated, and much needed, guidelines to support school districts in their reopening plans. On Feb 10, 2021, NHCS schools voted to transition Prek-5 students to Plan A, 5 day in person instruction. We are asking NHCS to hold an emergency meeting to create an in person learning plan that complies with the CDC.

According to the updated guidelines, communities in the Orange (Substantial Transmission) and Red (High Transmission) zones, Elementary Schools must operate “in hybrid learning mode or reduced attendance. Physical distancing of 6 feet or more is required.” At the time of writing this petition, New Hanover County has 311 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days. This puts us in the Red Zone (High Transmission). We also have a percent positive of 8% which puts us in the Orange  Zone (Substantial Transmission). To comply with CDC guidance, NHCS must adapt their in person learning plan to support reduced attendance and social distancing at 6 ft. apart.

Our goal is to get as many students back to in person learning safely and as quickly as possible! To do this, we must comply with the CDC!

We also understand this is a community public health issue. Safety within our schools impacts the safety of our community, and vice versa. NHCS not only has the responsibility to keep our students and staff safe, but to do its part to keep our community safe.

We are asking Board Chair Stefanie Adams to call an emergency meeting between now and March 2nd, to address how NHCS will comply with the CDC safety guidelines. We are also asking Board Members Nelson Beaulieu, Pete Wildeboer, Hugh McManus, Stephanie Kraybill, Stephanie Walker and Judy Justice, to support an in person learning plan that aligns with CDC guidance. 

About Targeting A Teacher’s Home In “Protesting”

Something happened to a teacher friend of mine yesterday.

A zealous citizen of his town intentionally showed up in his neighborhood with a sign and bullhorn and “picketed” outside his house on a sidewalk that borders the yard. The teacher was not home but his family was – wife and two young children. The teacher was helping other teachers and school workers advocate for safe schools at the time.

It was targeted. It was intrusive.

It was meant to be intimidating.

Actually, it was cowardly.

I have done some rallying in my time as a public school advocate. Marched in Raleigh. Attended rallies. Marched in my hometown. Picketed public places peacefully. And I have engaged in conversations with people when offered a chance even if I did not agree with them. I address some people in posts – most always lawmakers and when in Raleigh, I have gone to talk with them at the General Assembly.

And people have addressed me respectfully and with vitriol over social media and post responses. Sometimes it happens at meetings. I write a blog. There are bound to be disagreements.

BUT I WOULD NEVER GO TO SOMEONE”S HOUSE AND YELL THROUGH A BULLHORN BECAUSE I DISAGREED WITH THAT PERSON.

To do that would mean I am actively doxxing another and that person’s family. It means that I exert energy thinking that my mere presence and loud voice will bully someone into stopping an action. It means that there is an ill will towards someone else’s well-being and I am advertising that.

Petty. Sophomoric. Selfish.

To do this is not advocating for a cause but targeting someone else by crossing a line and thinking that intimidation is a solution to a problem that really is out of teachers’ hands.

But this instance of reckless bravado by a weakly convicted individual has actually done two things: unite teachers and public school advocates as well as show the absolute disconnect that many in the public have about schools.

Educators are about collaboration, teamwork, community. They are part of something bigger. When something happens to an educator, others are affected as well. Educators band together.

This pandemic has brought out the best in so many people and it also has exposed some of the worst character defects in people. To blame teachers for closed school buildings when they are fighting for safe school building re-openings in a day where there are few vaccinations of adults in schools, new variants of a virus, and a community spread enabled by society’s carelessness is ignorant.

Maybe this individual thought that he was doing something lawful and well within reason. Maybe he thought, “Heck, teachers picket all the time!”

We do exercise our right to protest. But we do it in public places with announced intent and never single out a person’s home.

And usually as a group.

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What This Current Crisis Shows Is That Our Schools Are About Collaboration Among Teachers, Not Competition

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage, especially in this recent epidemic.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In the months that North Carolina’s school buildings have been closed and or altered in schedules the amounts of collaboration, sharing, and giving of resources, insight, and encouragement have been overwhelming. It has been more about what can we do for each other rather than what I can get that others do not have.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Many of us may be teaching remotely and communicating with students virtually, but we sure are not creating a culture of insular competition.

Education is about people, not products. It’s about growth, not bottom lines.

It’s about all students, whether they sit in your classrooms or not.

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11 Months. Comparing Schools & The NC General Assembly.

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11 months in a pandemic. A lot going on.

Close school buildings. Go straight to remote teaching. Primary elections. Standardized testing doubts. Government ignorance of the Leandro report. Reopening Task Force with no teachers. Dan Forest’s platform. Lysol. Sunshine. Betsy DeVos. Meals for students. Underemployment benefits. Connectivity divide. Remote instruction plans. Vouchers for all bill. NCDPI audit. Bad reopening plans. Bad reopening plans. Even more bad reopening plans. Dashboards. Inconsistent contact tracing. Lame-duck state superintendent. Racial tensions. Campaigns for elections. PPE Funding? Summer professional development. Disconnected school boards. Fewer teacher candidates. Early retirements. Leadership turnover. Fewer available subs. Still no longevity pay, grad degree pay bumps, or due-process rights for new teachers and… now no retiree health benefits. Forced EOC tests. Forced PSAT. Unknown vaccination slots. Public scrutiny. Political posturing.

And teachers and school workers keep going.

What did our General Assembly accomplish?

No new budget, hot air, gaslighting, and electioneering.

Oh, and more vouchers.

So, How Many Substitute Teachers Does Your School System Really Have?

I work in a school system that has over 80 schools, 50,000+ students, and around 6200 teachers. There are around 1000 substitute teachers on the official sub list in the county.

That does not mean that there are 1000 people ready to go to any school on any day for any amount of time. Those who serve as substitutes can accept whatever openings that are desired.

Some only want to sub in elementary settings or strictly be in high schools.

Some only will sub in certain schools because of travel issues.

Some will only sub on certain days.

Some will only take the job if it is for certain subjects or even teachers.

When reopening plans have been shared in different systems there seems to be one common denominator: they have been planned with the most ideal situations in mind.

Conditions will not remain “ideal” for the plans being rolled out.

Many colleges spent the entire summer coming up with various ways to keep the spread of the coronavirus at bay during the first part of the school year. Classes were both remote and in person with social distancing. Large open spaces were provided for students to be able to stay distanced. Use of “revival” tents with WiFi were common and the weather was nice enough to promote more open air events.

Yet some of those schools sent students home within weeks: students who were high school graduates and were old enough to be considered adults.

Now many systems are looking to open up buildings to hybrid Plan B variations or full reopening Plan A for elementary, middle, and high schools.

Most public schools in the state do not have the resources to even outfit teachers and staff with proper PPE.

The weather is cold. Kids change classes. Hallways could still get crowded. And most people do not have the kind of health insurance that a president gets.

There are still questions about the ventilation systems in most schools.

So, how deep is the substitute teacher pool and how willing are people on that list to take a job in a school where a teacher or students have been told to stay home and quarantine?

And considering that many students will still opt to stay home for remote learning, the teaching force will be stretched thin to accomodate instruction on more than one “campus.”

Something to consider.

Because I know that this one is not available.

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