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North Carolina May Forgive School Days Missed Due to Hurricane Florence

UPDATED

North Carolina legislators are working on a plan to "forgive" districts in areas that bore the brunt of Hurricane Florence's impact for school days they missed because of the storm.

Another proposal would ensure that teachers and other district employees who missed work because of Hurricane Florence will get paid for those days and won't have to dip into their vacation days.

Two state lawmakers—Rep. D. Craig Horn, the co-chairman of the house K-12 education appropriations committee, and Sen. Michael V. Lee, the co-chairman of the higher education appropriations committee, who also represents New Hanover County—made the announcement at a Monday press conference in New Hanover County. 

Lee said they wanted to provide some certainty to parents, students, teachers and other school employees.  

State lawmakers are expected to return to Raleigh in a week or two for a special session on the state's immediate post-storm needs, but there is no agreement yet on when that will be. House Speaker Tim Moore wants the General Assembly to return on September 28, while Gov. Roy Cooper has called for an October 9 session. Moore said there are storm-related issues that need to be addressed before Oct. 9.

The current education-related proposals do not include charter schools because those schools are organized and funded differently from traditional public schools, Horn said. Legislators will also have to address the needs of college students, many of whom may not be able to return to school this year, he said.

The press conference came 11 days after Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, in Hanover County, N.C. Thousands still remain in shelters. 

In an update on Monday afternoon, Gov. Cooper said Hurricane Florence, which claimed 35 lives in the state, had inflicted more damage than 2016's Hurricane Matthew. 

As school officials in hard-hit areas such as Craven and New Hanover counties began to assess the damages to district buildings last week, they said they also worried about meeting the minimum number of instructional days districts must have each year—185 days—and mandatory class size requirements, especially because many teachers sustained significant damages to their homes and may have to relocate, at least temporarily. If those teachers move out of their school systems, districts may not be able to meet the minimum student-to-teacher ratio in the lower grades.

For districts in declared disaster areas, the legislature may forgive all of the missed school days. In districts that are not in declared disaster areas, the legislature could forgive up to three days and work with the districts about additional days, Horn said. One of the keys is making sure that children have enough instructional days to master content, Horn said. 

Drew Elliot, a spokesman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, said last week that local superintendents had discussed their concerns with Johnson and he was amenable to granting class size waivers on a case-by-case basis.

In both Craven and New Hanover counties, which have been closed since before Hurricane Florence made landfall, officials have not yet said when students will return to school.

The education proposals in the upcoming session are not expected to include action on capital costs to address the damages to school buildings, but legislators are expected to return to Raleigh, the state capitol, at a later date to work on additional Florence-related concerns.

Johnson noted that things often moved slowly in Raleigh, but officials knew they had to act quickly to help students and teachers who were affected by Hurricane Florence after hearing from the local superintendents.

"This is a first step," he said. "It is the right step."  

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