NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Governor Cooper announced today that he is issuing an executive order that all K-12 public schools will be closing Monday, March 16th for at least two weeks.
Governor Cooper says these measures are being put in place to help protect citizens and lessen the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We are in uncharted territory here,” Cooper said, but says decisions like this makes the state more able to respond to the spread of the virus, though the state has not seen any community-spread.
“This is the decision no one wanted to see happen.” said State Superintendent Mark Johnson as he gave short remarks, but he said he wants people to understand that this it was a necessary decision given the evolving situation.
Johnson said superintendents across the state have discussed making sure schools have the resources for distance learning if the need arises, as well as finding ways to continue providing child nutrition services.
One possible idea would be to have public school buses deliver meals to those students, Johnson said.
He said he has instructed superintendents to “do what is best for their students” and they will deal with any consequences when the time comes.
“We are all working together,” Johnson said of the bi-partisan efforts in Raleigh, likening the situation to the state’s response to disruptions in school due to Hurricanes.
Cooper said teachers will be paid while schools are closed.
Mark Jewell, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators released a statement saying; "We appreciate Governor Cooper’s careful consideration of all the impacts a statewide closure of our public school system would have on educators, students, parents, and the wider community. Ultimately, we think this is the correct decision, and we thank him for acting decisively in the best interest of everyone involved.”
The executive order also prohibits mass gatherings, making official the governor’s recommendation from earlier in the week.
The order reads:
“In addition to closing schools, the Executive Order prohibits mass gatherings that bring together more than 100 people in a single room or space, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theater, or other confined indoor or outdoor space, including parades, fairs and festivals. Violations of the order are punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The ban on gatherings does not include airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and spaces where people may be in transit. Office environments, restaurants, factories, or retail or grocery stores are also excluded.”
Spokesperson for Brunswick County Schools Daniel Seamans said they are working to respond to the Governor’s order and will have more information for parents in the next 24 hours.
“This is an evolving situation and we are dedicated to making sure students remain healthy and engaged during this time frame,” he said.
Bladen County Schools posted on their website that any new information that school leaders learn will be shared with parents and guardians via call, email, text, the website, and social media postings.
A spokesperson for Columbus County schools said employees should report to work as scheduled on Monday, despite the closures, for a mandatory teacher workday.
New Hanover County Schools spokeswoman Ann Gibson said in a statement “NHCS leaders and key staff are meeting on Sunday, March 15 to discuss supplemental learning, staff leave and other matters related to this school closure. Updates will be issued as they become available.”
In Pender County, Superintendent Steven Hill sent a message via the district’s email/phone system saying in part, “This weekend, our staff is working diligently to develop plans that will facilitate educational resources for students during this period. We ask for your patience during this time, and encourage you to monitor our district website and social media feeds for the latest information as we will updated you on all potential resources for learning.”
Thank you for your support of Pender County Schools and understanding as we work through these unprecedented and trying times.
Monday will be a work day for Pender County Schools staff.
New Hanover County Commission Chair Julia Boseman said the county wants parents to take the order seriously, whether they have children in public schools or not.
“We expected this given his guidelines earlier this week," Boseman says she agrees with the decision today and will work to assist the people of New Hanover County;
“New Hanover County is aligned with the Governor’s Executive Order announced today, as shown by the community guidance we shared on Friday that supports the cancellation of gatherings of more than 100 people. It’s a fine line we must walk between preventing the impact of COVID-19 in our area, and maintaining opportunities for social norms. Keeping establishments open, like our libraries, parks and attractions, as well as restaurants and other businesses, helps our community and economy continue normalcy as maintaining a safe distance from others can continue in those spaces. We will also work with our school system in assisting and supporting families while school is closed; a strong preventive measure to reduce risk of the virus in our area.”
Other elected leaders have also said they agree with the governor’s decision.
State House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement he believes closing schools is the right thing to do at this time.
Moore writes, in part:
“I hear from medical providers that their biggest need if schools close is childcare support for healthcare professionals, so I ask North Carolinians to pull together and support those families who serve on the front lines of this emergency.”
“School systems and students can rest assured the state legislature will work closely with education officials to provide the flexibility and funding they need to respond to these rapid developments and keep North Carolina communities safe.” -House Speaker Tim Moore
“This is the bold leadership that is necessary in a crisis," State Rep. Deb Butler said. "You can be sure that our Governor has analyzed this matter from every angle, consulted with professional educators, public health experts, and families. I applaud this aggressive effort to protect all of North Carolina.”
The Brigade Boys & Girls club announced it will be providing meals for students beginning Monday.
Two meals per-student, per-day will be distributed at the club’s two locations: Brigade Boys & Girls Club’s Teen Center located at 2759 Vance Street and at Houston Moore Housing Authority located at 1601 S. 13th Street.
Meals will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday while schools are closed.
This is a developing story and WECT will provide updates with more information as it becomes available.