RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Friday that all North Carolina schools will remain closed until the end of the school year, ending any hope of a return to in-person learning amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
"Today, we've had to make another tough choice," Cooper said. "Together with Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and School Board Chairman Eric Davis, we've decided to continue remote learning for the rest of the school year for our K-12 public schools."
Remote learning, whether through digital environments online or on-air via UNC-TV, will continue until the summer.
"School classrooms may be closed, but the learning is not over," Cooper said. "We don't make this decision lightly, but it's important to protect the health and safety of our students and our school staff."
The decision affects about 1.5 million students across North Carolina and more than 100,000 educators.
"When we closed schools to in-person instruction last month, we knew it would be difficult for a lot of students, especially those who lack high-speed internet, good food or the safety and security that the school building offers," Cooper said.
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With remote learning set to continue through the end of this school year, Cooper announced that the state had entered into partnerships with AT&T and Duke Energy Foundation to provide 100 and 80 Wi-Fi hotspots, respectively, to school buses to help students without home internet access.
The Tar Heel State now becomes the 42nd state to order or recommend school building closures for the rest of the year, in addition to three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. In total, an estimated 43 million public school students are learning at home because of the pandemic.
Executive Order 120, signed by Cooper on March 23, cancelled in-person instruction until at least May 15. The General Assembly, thus, will have to legislate based on the existing statutes related to student testing, student attendance, student teachers, teacher evaluations and school report cards, among other outstanding issues.
Wake County Public School System, the state's largest school district, announced Friday morning how it would be handling this year's grades.
Thursday, the State Board of Education approved a plan from the North Carolina Department of Publlic Instruction outlining how all public school students other than graduating high school seniors should be graded for the spring semester.
Looking ahead, the governor said plans for summer school and summer camps remain fluid.
"The opening of schools in the summer and fall and the availability of summer camps are going to depend on meeting health guidelines that will be established later," Cooper said.
He warned that even next school year, things won't return to how they were before the pandemic.
"Already we know that even the next school year will not be business as usual," Cooper said. "There will be new measures in place to protect health when school buildings open again next year. This pandemic will be with us for some time. But I have every confidence that we will find a way to get schools open safely in the new school year."
Also on Friday, the governor laid out his priorities and expectations for the upcoming Short Session at the General Assembly, which begins April 28. This includes how to spend and appropriate up to $1.4 billion in federal relief allocated to North Carolina from the albatross CARES Act passed by Congress last month.
Cooper, a Democrat, said he wants to build consensus with the Republican-led General Assembly, which as the legislative body is tasked with writing budgets.
Notably, Cooper's proposals for the upcoming session do not include expanding access to Medicaid or expanding unemployment insurance, the former being a divisive issue that has kept North Carolina without a new state budget for the past year.
The budget is likely to address many issues specific to COVID-19, including testing, contact tracing, supporting cash-strapped rural hospitals, and education, among other things.
On Friday, Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said that when the General Assembly returns for the legislative short session the Senate will not reconsider Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the state budget, House Bill 966.
"When we come back into session next week our focus will be on providing relief for North Carolina citizens suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic," Berger said. "Our state's financial outlook is in a vastly different place than it was before this pandemic hit. Because of that, we will not be reconsidering the veto of the state budget this year,"
Berger said the state is "staring down a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall."
On Thursday, Cooper announced the extension of his Stay-At-Home order until May 8.
NC Coronavirus: Schools must remain closed through this school year, Gov. Roy Cooper announces