Most N.C. public school students will be relying on online education as school starts this month. Many of their teachers have publicly urged the state’s school boards to make that decision, citing the dangers of the coronavirus — though some federal and state public health officials have urged a return to in-person instruction. The public appears widely split on whether schools should reopen for traditional classes or focus on virtual learning.
We asked the N.C. Association of Educators to explain their position and received this emailed response from Tamika Walker Kelly, who became the group’s president on July 1. It is the state’s largest organization representing public school employees, though it doesn’t disclose its membership. Walker Kelly is an elementary school music educator in Cumberland County and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from East Carolina University. She co-chaired the NCAE’s Organize 2020 Racial and Social Justice Caucus, which has organized teacher walkouts.
What is NCAE’s message to N.C. lawmakers, school boards and families about the best approach to starting school this fall?
Our first priority is the safety of educators and students. We believe that any decisions about returning to school should have the voices of Educators and parents in those conversations as active participants.
Does NCAE oppose any effort to reopen schools for in-person instruction during the traditional August cycle this year?
We believe that students and educators should be the voices that help determine the safest way to return to school. We know that we should listen to our public health officials and medical professionals before we send educators and students back into potentially unsafe conditions.
Does NCAE believe that the reopening of in-person instruction should be a local decision, or have more of a statewide consistent approach?
Governor Cooper has already provided statewide guidance for districts and that allows for districts to be responsive to the feedback from their communities. We will continue to support our educators who are organizing on the local and state level for the safety of all.
What steps is NCAE advising to promote a return to in-person instruction later this year? Is the group making any specific efforts in that regard?
NCAE is working with our local leaders and membership to move our statewide petition: o2020.us/OurSafetyOurSay. We have been and will continue to advocate for no budget cuts to school districts this year and next, along with advocating that the North Carolina General Assembly fund the required and recommended safety measures as outlined by DHHS.
Does NCAE believe that students from lower-income households, many lacking broadband conditions, have a realistic chance at receiving an equitable education through online learning?
When school buildings closed in March, we were thrust into “crisis learning”. Educators were going above and beyond to deliver instruction with the resources they had. During the summer, our educators have been working hard to develop robust and engaging virtual learning environments. However, it is important to note that these issues being raised are not new ones. It is important that this General Assembly must act on providing the resources necessary to address inequity, which they have failed to do prior to this pandemic.