Politics & Government

Preserve teacher pay in schools closed after Florence, state leaders say

Hurricane Florence destroys high school in Jacksonville, NC

White Oak High School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was battered by rain and wind from Hurricane Florence.
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White Oak High School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was battered by rain and wind from Hurricane Florence.

School district employees affected by Florence shouldn’t have to worry about pay and students shouldn’t have to make-up instructional days, state leaders said Monday.

Most public school students in North Carolina missed at least some school time because of the storm. Several southeastern North Carolina school systems were closed for a week or more after Florence hit. Some, including New Hanover and Robeson counties, closed school through the end of this week.

State law requires schools to be in session for 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction per year. School districts have historically tried to make-up for lost instruction time by making the school day longer, cutting into spring break and holding class on Saturdays.

On Monday, state Sen. Michael Lee and state Rep. Craig Horn joined North Carolina schools Superintendent Mark Johnson in Wilmington to offer preliminary details of a bill they are drafting to make sure teachers, other school system employees and students will be held “as harmless as possible,” said Horn, of Union County. All three leaders are Republicans.

“There was some worry among teachers and school employees that they would have to use vacation or personal days for the period of time that schools were closed,” according to a statement released to the news media by Horn and Lee’s offices. “This bill would relieve those concerns by clarifying that employees will not need to use vacation or personal time. Legislators are looking at a number of possibilities on how to do this including waiving some or all of the days missed due to the storm.”

Lee and Horn co-chair education committees in the GOP-controlled legislature.

“We’ve got some schools that are turned in to shelters, we don’t know how long we’ll have to use that,” Horn added.

News of their effort comes several days after Johnson and House Speaker Tim Moore announced their desire to limit make-up days for schools affected by the storm. On Monday, Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper seeking to hold a special legislative session on Oct. 2 to address disaster relief. Cooper will issue a proclamation for Oct. 2, his spokesman Ford Porter said.

Florence isn’t done disrupting the state yet. Floodwaters could flood areas around Wilmington on Monday and Tuesday.

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The bill is a work-in-progress and doesn’t yet address charter schools, Horn said.

The N.C. Association of Educators said the unseen damages of Florence must be addressed.

“Part of the recovery, just like in Hurricane Matthew, is to ensure educators are not penalized financially and that school districts have the flexibility with calendars in order to meet the needs of our students,” Mark Jewell, NCAE president, said in a statement.

After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, lawmakers limited the time that schools had to make up.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
Specht: 919-829-4870 @AndySpecht
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