It’s been a first day of school like no other across North Carolina today. And in Lee County, it’s been a day of children stepping outside for photos, then coming right back in to log in to their virtual classrooms.

Lee County Schools voted in late July to reopen schools with online-only courses, with the option to reconsider that plan after six weeks. Like much of the state’s 115 public school districts, the Plan C approach requires teachers to be present on their respective campuses to deliver their curriculum to elementary, middle and high school students working on laptops or desktops at home.

While online learning has created a childcare issue for working parents across the country, teachers are struggling to educate their students while also overseeing the education of their own children. And as pointed out in a lengthy post by the popular Tales of an Educated Debutante blog on Sunday, Lee County is one of only a handful of school districts in the state requiring teachers to be on site but not allowing their children to come to campus with them. 

Districts like Wilson, Rowan, New Hanover and Wake have set up learning labs for children of teachers, supervised by teacher assistants. Durham is charging its staff $105 a week to use its labs. Alamance-Burlington, Nash and several others are allowing children on campus, but not providing supervision of any kind (though some are offering to feed them).

Some districts — like Cumberland, Cabarrus and Lexington City — are not allowing any students, but are allowing teachers the option to work from home. According to the post, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has this option as well, but has “strongly encouraged” teachers to work on campus.

Montgomery and Duplin join Lee County in the “no children on campus” category, though some districts doing a hybrid of online and in-person learning are also not providing a child care option for teachers, such as Cleveland, Stanly and Gaston.

Patrick Kelly, chair of the Lee County Board of Education, said the decision addresses safety concerns in Lee County, which has one of the highest COVID-19 positivity rates in the state.

“We understand Plan C, when it was approved, provided a challenge for teachers, staff and working families throughout the community,” Kelly said. “And employers across the county are facing the same issues we are.”

Kelly said the county is fortunate to have several groups like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs step up and expand their offerings to parents across the county.

“It’s a village mentality right now, and we’re proud of the county for stepping up,” he said. “But the main reason we went with Plan C is to contribute to the health and welfare of our community.”

Sandi Shover, president of the Lee County Association of Educators, issued a statement to The Rant Monday saying the policy has “frustrated” a number of teachers.

“LeeNCAE had already heard from a number of teachers who were frustrated and worried due to child care issues and fears of bringing the virus home to vulnerable family members,” the statement read. “There has also been frustration over working in the buildings due to most teachers having had to remove all their personal effects.”

The group created a survey for LCS teachers and staff to gauge the overall feel heading into the school year. Shover shared some of the early findings:

  • Approximately 80% of staff are concerned about exposure to themselves and exposure to their family.
  • 87% report a “higher than usual” amount of job stress.
  • Over a quarter of those who responded are having issues with child care.
  • Almost two-thirds feel that society as a whole does not value teachers.
  • And over 90 percent say they would like to be given the option to work from home while virtual teaching is happening.

School began Monday with a statewide “hiccup” when the online education system NCEdCloud experienced several technical issues and crashed Monday morning as thousands and thousands of students tried to login. According WRAL, the issues were resolved in about three hours and not every district was affected.

According to Kelly, Day 1 of a very unique school year was going well as of 2 p.m. Monday.

“Under the circumstances, everything is going smoothly,” Kelly said. “There’s always going to be areas we can do better in, but whatever issues we’ve had so far, we’ve been able to overcome them. Our faculty and staff are doing an amazing job.”