Parents struggle to teach children at home amid coronavirus-disrupted school calendars

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wednesdays are usually known as Hump Days, but in this new reality, every day is an uphill battle.

"Like every other mom in Wake County, I made a multi-color schedule that I wanted us to follow," Lexie Nuell, a Wake County mom, told ABC11. "We're on Day 3, and we're functioning at what I would say is 60 percent, and it's hard."

Lexie's daughter, Mira, is in fourth grade. Before the coronavirus crisis forced schools to close for two weeks, Mira was learning about fractions, the American Revolution and reptiles. On Wednesday, she's working on some supplemental worksheets and extra assignments made up by mom and dad.

"It's mostly a review of what I've learned before," Mira explained. "I'm surprised about this, but the math is easiest for me even though math isn't my best subject."

The Nuells are just one family among thousands in Wake County and more than 1 million across North Carolina.

"My husband and I are not school teachers, so just knowing if we're doing it right or if there's going to be a lag in what she's learning," Lexie said. "It's frustrating because it's so uncertain."

Indeed, there are challenges for officials at the district, state and federal levels. This includes what happens with the school calendar, how to license student teachers, how to feed children, how to reach high school and college benchmarks, how should teachers report to work, and how to deliver learning remotely to the more than 1.5 million students spread out over urban and rural, rich and poor neighborhoods.

State Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, a member of the House K-12 Education Committee, calls the current crisis a "severe interruption" that demands a response from the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina is one of 39 states to close all schools (the others all have some districts closed). In total, 91,000 public and private schools have closed their doors, sending 41.6 million children.

The Tar Heel State, for now, has only shut down schools for two weeks, but other states are taking more drastic action: New York City is closing schools through at least April 20th, while Kansas just announced the cancellation of the remainder of the school year.

"I think people want some semblance of where we're going, so any state making long-term decisions is giving people some sense of planning for what's ahead," Meyer said. "The downside of that is we don't know where this is going to go and if we want to maintain some semblance of a school year, then we want to hold off until we get some more information."

On Wednesday, state officials told ABC11 that they're working on some new initiatives for distance learning, including potential new lessons and programs that can be broadcast statewide on UNC-TV. The Department of Public Instruction, meanwhile, has been holding webinars with school administrators and technology staff on available tools and protocols.

Changes to the calendar, the budget and whether to waive testing requirements will need legislative action at the General Assembly. One glaring problem: how to legislate from home.

"I think what we'd have to do is get everything prepared and then have folks come to Raleigh for a very short special session and vote on what's being presented and hopefully have most negotiations happening ahead of time and use appropriate social distancing to the time where we're actually taking votes," Meyer added.

NC House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is announcing the formation of bipartisan groups to consider policy measures addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

"The state House of Representatives is forming bipartisan legislative working groups to address issues facing families and businesses in North Carolina and seeking input from every county on how to best respond with emergency legislative measures through our unemployment system, savings reserves, budget funding, and policy measures that benefit folks most affected by COVID-19," Moore said in a statement sent to ABC11. "Our focus now is deploying the resources we saved for this crisis effectively through emergency actions that keep our economy moving, help education communities learn collaboratively, and address all the issues that are facing North Carolinians with this massive disruption in their daily lives."
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