Concerns grow as about 1 in 5 NC students not attending virtual learning

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Catherine Truitt will begin her first term as North Carolina State Superintendent in January. Her greatest initial challenge will be the effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having on education.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reported to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee that the average statewide attendance for virtual learning is 81 percent. The range is from 64 to 93 percent. On average, according to the DPI’s response, 36 percent of students are learning entirely in a virtual setting.

“I can only imagine how difficult it is for parents who can’t hang around the house for an extra 15 minutes to get their kids settled before they go to work,” Truitt said. “We know that remote learning is not as effective as in-person instruction, and for some children and families it’s been a complete disaster even. And those are things to be concerned with and we will have to pay the piper.”

Truitt said that the top reason for lower attendance is the lack of access to the internet, particularly for the poor.

“I have no doubt that a lot of this is due to connectivity issues. This is a problem that’s going to require those of us at the state level who have these urban-rural divides going to Washington, D.C. and advocating that the federal government invest in last-mile connectivity,” Truitt said.

Truitt believes most school districts have gotten it right when figuring out what works best for them. She would rather decisions continue to be made locally. However, Truitt does want Gov. Roy Cooper to take the next step, which she believes will help with attendance.

“I would like to see the governor lift the restriction on getting our high schools students back in 100 percent in person for those districts who are able to do so safely.”

In terms of safety, Truitt said restrictions on federal and state money need to lighten up in order to help individual districts with their specific needs.

“So, if they need more personnel in order to maintain cleanliness standards, then they need to be able to use that money for those reasons. If it’s that they need more PPE, they need to be able to do that,” Truitt said. “So, we need to make the money they are given as flexible as possible with as few strings attached as possible.”

“I’m looking forward to advocating all education stakeholders at the General Assembly and look forward to sharing success stories as January comes. And we’ve put this horrible 2020 behind us. I think we’re all ready for this year to be over. I look forward to helping our superintendents, as well as, with members of my team in the department, with those educators in the trenches who’ve worked so hard trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”

This is the first part of CBS 17’s conversation with Catherine Truitt. The discussion continues Tuesday, focusing on the effect COVID-19 has had on testing and failing grades.

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