On Monday, the Burke County Board of Education voted to start the school year remotely. The decision came 10 days after the board voted to send Burke County Public Schools to school in a hybrid format, with two groups of students in schools for two days per week.
Sherri Boyle has three children, including a high schooler in the BCPS system, who she is opting to send to Burke County Virtual Academy. She is sending her two middle schoolers to Caldwell Connect, Caldwell County Schools’ version of the BCVA.
For Boyle, the issue of internet connectivity is something she worries about, as her children will rely on dependable internet access to complete their assignments.
“This pandemic has highlighted the great need for fast and reliable internet solutions for families in rural areas,” Boyle said. “Can you imagine me driving my three children to park next to a school bus that is equipped as a hot spot so we can sit in the car all day while they do Zoom meetings with their teachers?
“Before this pandemic, lack of quick and reliable internet was merely frustrating and inconvenient,” Boyle said. “This has now become an urgent need for all school-aged children living in rural areas.”
In late April, Gov. Roy Cooper announced partnerships with AT&T, Duke Energy Foundation and Google to provide Wi-Fi hot spots on buses throughout the state. In early May, Burke County Public Schools received seven hot spot devices to be distributed throughout the county.
Starting next week, the school system will distribute devices for students to complete their remote and virtual assignments.
During Monday’s meeting, board member R.L. Icard took issue with his fellow board members’ decision to start the school year remotely. Icard said the school system should be able to hold in-person schooling, considering the system operates day care at its elementary sites.
Many parents agreed with Icard’s line of thinking, including Samantha Fontenot, whose son will start pre-K this year, and Susie Fortune.
“My feeling is that Burke County (Public Schools) is doing a disservice to parents by charging for day care,” Fortune said. “It’s unfair to parents who don’t have a choice but to work and pay taxes that pay the state workers’ salaries, and still be charged for day care by the schools during school hours.”
According to Cheryl Shuffler, Burke County Public Schools public relations officer, the school system will charge $90 per week for K-7 students and $100 per week for pre-K students for day care. For those who qualify for a free lunch, this fee includes breakfast and a snack. For those who don’t qualify for a free lunch, the breakfast and snack will be $2.60 per day.
“(BCPS) will provide time and space for their remote learning,” Shuffler said. “But day care staff are not certified teachers and can only provide opportunities for students to do the work. Our day care programs are enterprise ventures and operate independent from local and state education funds.”
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers a Child Care Subsidy program that uses state and federal funds to serve eligible families. According to data from The Economic Policy Institute, in North Carolina, child care costs $9,255 annually, or $771 month, which is more than double the cost of Burke County Public Schools’ daycare fees.
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, has a wife who teaches in Burke County Public Schools, as well as three children at Oak Hill Elementary. This parent said for some parents, like his wife, the increased pressure of having to teach their kids is stressful.
“Think about the average schedule where a parent works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., gets home at 5:30 (p.m.), and then has to fix dinner and teach a whole day’s worth of school,” he said. “Many parents are technologically illiterate. The school board cannot even conduct a meeting virtually without having technological issues and having people from the technology department helping them. How are parents and teachers supposed to do it?”
However, many parents applauded the school board’s decision, including Alicia Carbonetti.
“I am thankful that the BCPS system is thinking of the health and well-being of our children,” Carbonetti said. “We are all treading in unchartered waters and these decisions cannot be easy. People will never be pleased with the decision (the board members) make, regardless of what it is.”
Tabitha Arrowood has a first-grader at Oak Hill Elementary, and a daughter in pre-K.
“My biggest concern is for everyone involved in the public school system,” Arrowood said. “If at any point we are in a small, indoor space, such as a school bus or a classroom, the probability of exposure to this virus is exponentially higher. Many of our children have a wide array of outside situations that make the risk for severity significantly higher, including children with underlying health conditions, children living in multi-generational homes, children without ideal health insurance, and so much more.”
Arrowood said it is unreasonable to expect elementary school children to follow mask-wearing requirements and to socially distance for an entire school day.
“Sending these students into the schools too early could have dire results not only for our children but for the family members they live with,” Arrowood said. “Where do these children go if their parents die from this virus? Who do they have to turn to?”
For information on NCDHHS' Child Care Subsidy, visit https://bit.ly/3fb1wdh.
Johnny Casey is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8907.
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