Guilford County Schools is asking for more funding from state lawmakers to help pay for rising costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The school board held a virtual meeting with members of the local delegation Tuesday to discuss their concerns.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras wants personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers who are providing meals and other services during school closures. The district estimates it needs around 1,000 masks each day. School officials also are requesting additional money for programs to help students who might fall behind.

Contreras says inequities and a digital divide have quickly become apparent. Of roughly 73,000 students, more than 40,000 have not signed on to the system yet. She says Internet connectivity needs to be addressed on a larger scale.

“We have to have a federal initiative that is similar to what we did when we worked on electricity in the darkest parts of the country. That's what it's going to take to ensure equity, so I believe the governors have to be working together.“

School officials are also asking state lawmakers to negotiate with Telecom companies for a low-cost Internet access fee as online learning continues.

As for testing and accountability, the district says it's pleased that North Carolina's application for a waiver of federal testing accountability requirements for 2019/2020 has been submitted and granted by the U.S. Department of Education. But Contreras says there are state laws tied to the results of EOC's (end-of-course) and EOG's (end-of-grade) tests that the state legislature will have to address.

“We ask that the legislature return promotion and retention decisions to local school districts, so that we can make certain that all third-grade students who were in good school standing when school closure occurred are promoted to fourth grade,” she says.

The district also requests that lawmakers look at providing additional funding for screeners to identify potential deficits in reading and other skill gaps, and more professional development for K-4 literacy teachers.

“In poor schools, for example, we may wish to extend the school year, to start early, to end later, to hold Saturday school programs. We will need the funding to make up for this gap in education,” says Contreras.

Graduation ceremonies were also discussed during the online meeting with local delegates. There's a lot of uncertainty for thousands of high school seniors across North Carolina because of restrictions from the coronavirus. But education leaders are looking at innovative ways to mark their accomplishments.

Contreras says they're working with high school principals to plan online events that will honor their achievements.

We have learned you can have virtual Instagram parties,” she says. “We've learned we can do graduations virtually right now until we can have the celebration, but we have every intention as soon as this is over to let every student cross that stage.”

Contreras says as of now, the district is hoping to have graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 in December.

GCS officials are encouraging the General Assembly and State Board of Education to consider legislation and policies that ensure as smooth of a transition as possible for these students. Contreras says that includes making sure acceptance letters to state university system schools and community colleges are honored and not rescinded due to pandemic-related circumstances.

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you're experiencing. 

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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