Details on how Wilkes County’s 9,500 public school students have been educated since in-person instruction temporarily ended statewide on March 16 were shared during the Wilkes school board meeting Monday night.

Gov. Roy Cooper initially ordered the closure of all public schools for two weeks starting March 16 due to the coronavirus, but on March 23 ordered that they remain closed at least through May 15.

Monday night, Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said he is still hoping students will be able to return for the last two weeks of school.

Dr. Donna Cotton, chief academic officer for the Wilkes schools, concurred and cited the importance of seniors being back at their schools after May 15 for prom and graduation ceremonies.

May 29 is the scheduled last day of school in Wilkes. Spring break is April 9-17.

Cotton explained adjustments made in school grading, high school graduation and other policies as a result of the closure during the meeting, held virtually using Zoom.

Cotton said the closure led to the State Board of Education temporarily suspending the ability of local school districts to require more than the minimum of 22 credits required by the state for graduation.

As a result, the Wilkes school board on Monday night unanimously approved waiving completion of senior graduation projects as a requirement for graduation for the class of 2020. Byrd said doing so should help ease stress for seniors.

Cotton said the State Board of Education switched high school seniors to a pass/withdraw grading system for this year’s spring courses during its March 27 meeting.

On their transcripts, seniors will have notes saying they received passing grades for classes they were passing on March 13 (last day schools were open before closing due to the coronavirus) as opposed to traditional A-F letter grades.

Cotton said that if a senior wasn’t passing a course required for graduating on March 13 the teacher must provide learning opportunities for the student to improve to a passing grade on topics covered up to March 13.”

Under the grading system approved by the state board on March 27, a senior not passing a course as of March 13 will get a withdrawal code for the class, meaning no credit for that course if the student doesn’t bring this up during remote learning.

“It really important that we pay attention to our seniors right now if they have a graduation credit they need to work on,” said Cotton.

Grades from fall courses will still count for the grade point average for seniors. If seniors are taking a year-long class, the grade from the fall semester will count toward the GPA.

Cotton said students taking advanced credit classes can still take a revised AP exam and get AP college credit and make a level three or above. She said the same is true for Career and College Promise classes.

The state board also approved requiring that schools only give letter grades to students in grades K-11 if they can meet these requirements while remote learning is used during the period schools are closed due the coronavirus:

Grades K-11

Cotton said that also under the newly revised policies, grades can’t be given on an assignment in grades K-11 unless each of these five elements are present:

• learning is accessible by all students while meeting all first needs;

• there is consistent communication between the teacher and student;

• standards and skill development are the focus;

• evidence of student learning;

• the whole child and consideration of home learning environment.

“Those five very much mirror what we were telling our folks to do,” said Cotton.

She said the revised policies focus more on engagement than evaluation, as well as focusing on feedback.

Cotton said DPI grading guidance for kindergarten through 11th grade is that all grades will be based on the grades students had on March 13, which was the last day before schools were ordered closed by Gov. Roy Cooper due to the coronavirus.

Also according to DPI guidance, she said, any additional learning or grading during remote learning can improve a student’s final grade and nothing that occurs during remote learning can bring the grade down.

She said final grades for sixth- through 11th-graders is determined by a student’s progress on March 13 and any progress during remote learning, so “it’s real important that if a student was not making progress as of March 13, that the teacher really be reaching out to that child and parent and explaining that they need to be working” for the child to be promoted to the next grade the next year.

Looking back

Cotton said the first two weeks of school were focused on review and enrichment.

Review and enrichment materials were sent home with students to help keep them engaged. Also, surveys were sent to homes to determine digital access.

After it was learned that students wouldn’t be returning to schools on March 30 and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) provided school systems with more information and a remote learning checklist was sent to Wilkes principals in a March 27 Zoom meeting.

Cotton said principals are monitoring teacher lesson plans, which must align with state standards and be in digital and non-digital versions to accommodate different levels of internet access.

Teachers must designate time during working hours each day for parents to contact them and try to provide direct (face to face) student instruction by computer at least once a week.

She said schools provide students with packets containing their assignments and learning materials at least once a week.

Cotton said teachers couldn’t give grades during the first two weeks schools were closed, but grades can be given now.

At all grade levels, said Cotton, the emphasis is on monitoring student progress to make sure work is completed and then give feedback. She said the goal is to have consistent due dates to provide a sense of routine but not punitive considering the situations students face. She said attendance isn’t taken.

Longer than May 15?

DPI has said it will provide further guidance to schools on issuing final grades in grades K-11 if schools are closed longer than May 15.

Some states, including Virginia, have ordered schools closed for the rest of the school year.

Cooper has said he’s not ready to give up on reopening yet. He said the decision on reopening will be based on the guidance of health officials at the time.

Also Monday night, Byrd was granted emergency powers to act in the interest of student safety during the coronavirus pandemic. This was recommended by the State Board of Education.

Byrd said he has never been more proud of Wilkes school personnel, referring to their response during the pandemic.

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