First Day Of School In NC Prompts Tech Challenges, COVID Concerns

NORTH CAROLINA — The first day of school for North Carolina students came and went

NORTH CAROLINA — The first day of school for North Carolina students came and went Monday, but for many was a day fraught with online technical challenges and new COVID-19 fears.

Before lunch Monday, schools and families of students opting to begin classes remotely were confronted with the headache of a statewide crash of online platforms.

“We are aware of statewide problems with access to the state’s NC EdCloud platform,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which opted for all classes to begin remote, said at the time of the outage. “This is limiting access to remote learning tools for CMS and other districts across the state.”

The NC EdCloud outage reportedly affected access to online platforms including PowerSchool, PowerTeacher, Canvas, SchoolNet, Clever and some parent/student portals.

“This is why you test software before you give it to users,” wrote one parent on CMS’ Facebook page. “Everything we have gotten has been so last minute and disorganized.”

“Let’s try and have a little grace for everyone involved in this,” another parent wrote. “It’s not an ideal situation but at least troubleshooting is in the works! We should expect the first few days to be a tad rocky.”

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For some school districts in the greater Charlotte metro region, the excitement and anticipation of in-person instruction was quickly defused by new COVID-19 developments.

In Lincoln County, in-person instruction at one elementary school was abruptly cancelled for two weeks Monday out of concern after a possible COVID-19 cluster was linked to faculty, WSOC reported. The school will remain closed to staff until Aug. 24, and closed to students until at least Aug. 31. “The school will operate under Plan C, remote learning only, with no face-to-face instruction,” the school district said.

A similar scenario occurred in Iredell County Monday when a school district announced that all seventh grade students at a Statesville middle school would begin the school year with remote learning after a positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the school.

“A student/employee at Third Creek Middle School has tested positive for COVID-19 virus,” Iredell-Statesville Schools said in a statement. “As a result of the positive COVID-19 result and the Iredell Health Department requirement for close contacts to quarantine for 14 days, all 7th grade students and teachers at Third Creek Middle will begin the year with remote learning.”

The announcement was made by the school district three days after the school held an open house and the night before students were to being a “Plan B” schedule of in-person learning through reduced class sizes staggered throughout the week.

Fear of potential coronavirus spread among students was felt at the college level, too. Two weeks after students began moving back to campus and one week after classes began, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill abruptly announced Monday that all undergraduate students would end in-person classes and shift to remote learning as of Wednesday.

Prior to the Aug. 17 announcement, UNC residence halls were at less than 60 percent capacity and in-person classes less than 30 percent capacity, according to school officials.

“In just the past week (Aug. 10-16), we have seen COVID-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8% to 13.6% at Campus Health,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement Monday. “As of this morning, we have tested 954 students and have 177 in isolation and 349 in quarantine, both on and off campus.”

By the end of the day, state public health officials announced that North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was expanding its Hope4Healers mental health helpline to serve state teachers and school personnel.

“With schools opening in-person and remotely across the state under new health and safety procedures, NCDHHS and the NC Psychological Foundation can provide these personnel with mental health and resilience supports through Hope4Healers,” DHHS said in a statement. The mental health helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is staffed by someone who is trained to listen and offer support. “They then will be contacted within about a day by a licensed mental health professional for a free, confidential, short-term follow-up by phone or video chat,” DHHS said.

The Hope4Healers Helpline may be reached at 919-226-2202. A separate helpline, Hope4NC Helpline (1-855-587-3463), provides mental health and resilience supports for all North Carolinians, DHHS said.

“Our educators and school teams are working in an unprecedented situation on the front lines of the state’s COVID-19 response,” DHHS Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Kody Kinsley, said in a statement. “We want to make sure they have access to the mental health and resilience supports they may need to feel like their best selves in the classroom – whether they are teaching in-person or remotely.”

How was your student’s first day back at school? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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This article originally appeared on the Charlotte Patch

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