On Friday, March 13, the rumors and questions were everywhere. Would Wake County public schools and other schools across the state close? If so, how long would students be out of class?

COVID-19 NC news

Sharon Moll Mixon wasn’t sure how the coronavirus might impact her three children or their school, A.B. Combs Magnet Elementary in Raleigh. As she waited for news, she headed to the grocery store to stock up on food. Thankfully, she had enough toilet paper already. There, she saw empty shelves and shoppers wearing gloves. Others seemed less concerned.

Mixon had seen enough news out of Italy and other countries to know the new coronavirus was serious. She checked in with a PTA mom whom she’s friends with to get the latest update and decided it was time to get ready for whatever was headed her way.

That Friday, the Wake County Public School System announced its decision – schools would stay open, even though other districts were shutting down. The next day, Gov. Roy Cooper overrode that decision with an executive order, saying all public schools in the state would close Monday, March 16, for a minimum of two weeks.

“We do not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach,” Cooper said in a statement. “These are hard decisions, but they are necessary so we can learn more about the virus.”

The governor’s decision to close more than 2,600 public schools across North Carolina has affected more than 1.5 million students and their families, including Mixon and her three children, Rainier, 10, Scarlett, 9, and Gray, 6.

While some families, like Mixons, have been handling the transition relatively well, others have been lining up for food donations to feed their children and dealing with job losses as the spread of the coronavirus has forced some businesses to lay off staff or close.

Mixon acknowledges she’s fortunate. While her husband continues going to his office job, she has scaled back her job as a dog trainer to take care of their children at home.

“I am very blessed to have three kids and a big yard, so they play with each other for hours on end,” said Mixon, who lives on a 1-acre property surrounded by tall trees and quiet streets just inside Interstate 440 in Raleigh.

“I really can’t imagine other people that are in a different situation, where there is one child in an apartment. I don’t know what you do all day.”

The biggest adjustment her children have had to make, other than not going to school every day, is not being able to see their neighborhood friend across the street. Shortly after schools were closed, Mixon texted her neighbor to say her family was going to lie low for a while and that the open-door playtime their children had enjoyed would have to take a break. Her neighbor agreed.

Mixon explained the decision to her children as “social distancing” and said it is necessary to keep them healthy.

Her children are aware of the coronavirus and have felt scared at times, Mixon said, but she tries to shield them as best she can.

“We don’t watch the news like we did,” she said. “I’ve tried carefully to not let them hear any conversations of me saying to my sister or somebody else, ‘You know, this is really serious.’”

To pass the time, Mixon and her children have enjoyed being outdoors and getting updates from their teachers, including her son’s kindergarten teacher, who emailed a picture of a lizard in her bathtub and asked students to draw a picture of it and write a couple of lines about the strange home invader.

“The teachers have been great,” Mixon said, adding that the school has been communicating with families through social media and email. Still, educating and entertaining children for weeks on end is a daunting task for some parents. Mixon has tried to find creative ways to keep her children calm yet mentally stimulated.

On Tuesday, day two of no school, she took her children to a nearby creek for some fresh air and a much needed break from the disturbing news of the coronavirus’s impacts.

They spread a blanket on the ground and huddled close, enjoying a picnic lunch together in nature’s solitude, far from the worries of the world.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe is a Carolina Public Press contributing writer based in Orange County. Email info@carolinapublicpress.org to contact the Carolina Public Press news team.

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