Families across North Carolina are preparing to start a new school year in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Most public school students are starting school online, but each school district around the state is doing things a little bit differently under guidelines released by Gov. Roy Cooper in July.
Public radio stations from the mountains to the coast came together to examine the myriad complexities of the coming school year. WFAE’s Charlotte Talks host Mike Collins talked to North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson about how districts are planning to educate students in spite of the pandemic.
WUNC’s State of Things host Frank Stasio dug into how the stress of this moment is impacting the mental health of children, families and teachers with Shauna Cooper, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Reporters from WHQR in Wilmington, BPR in Asheville and WFDD in Winston-Salem share how their communities are responding to the new intersecting education and health challenges.
WHQR’s Rachel Keith talked to school teachers in New Hanover County about their concerns for the semester.
"This year we'll be like building an airplane, as we're flying it; we have no idea what the school year is going to bring," said elementary school teacher Danielle Smallwood. "Many of us are confused. And I know that we're not the only ones. I know that the administration is confused and trying to make plans that will work."
Helen Chickering from BPR investigated how the role of the school nurse will change.
"This COVID epidemic is going to absolutely really show how much we need a nurse in every school," said Kim Berry. She oversees the 17 nurses who serve the 23 schools in the Henderson County District.
WFDD’s Keri Brown analyzed school budgets in rural and urban districts in the western half of the state.
Republican Rep. Jeffrey Elmore co-chairs the House Education Committee. He said it is hard to plan for school funding during the pandemic, given all the unknowns.
"We have to be very specific on seeing how the systems are handling it and what the needs are, and you just basically have to see that after they approach it with their plan and see where the shortcomings are," Elmore said.
And Lilly Knoepp from BPR went to the campus of Western Carolina University to find out how officials are planning for the pandemic as students come back to campus.
"It is our expectation at Western Carolina University, that if you are on campus then you will be wearing a face covering or you will be asked to leave. There won't be a hall monitor set up to watch this. We think this will be a self-policing activity," said Mike Beyers, the vice chancellor of administration and finance at WCU.