A staff member greets students at Lincoln Charter School as they returned to campus in October 2020. The school is one of initial participants in a pilot program for coronavirus testing. Taylor Helms / Lincoln Charter School.

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The state Department of Public Instruction has released guidance to schools on how to implement House Bill 82 Summer Learning Choice for NC Families.

The legislation ensures that every school district offers 30 days, or 150 hours, of in-person instruction this summer. For most districts, this will take the form of six five-day weeks of summer school.

Summer school is optional for families and is open to all students, although priority will be given to students deemed “at risk of retention” based on their 2020-21 academic performance. There will not be a virtual option.

House Bill 82 passed unanimously on April 1 and received Gov. Roy Cooper‘s signature on April 9. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, Rep. John Torbett, R-Wilkes, and Rep. Jeff Zenger, R-Forsyth, were the bill’s primary sponsors.

“Parents are ready to see their children going back to school and recovering from the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic,” Moore said on the day the bill passed.

Val Young, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said creating an in-person environment for students this summer is a great idea. 

Student-to-teacher ratios tend to be lower over the summer, she noted. “We know that you can get more done when you have fewer children in a room; when that teacher-child ratio is small, you get a lot more done,” Young said.

She added that in-person teaching is helpful because there are some subjects, like teaching handwriting to younger children, that don’t translate over the computer.

Funding sources

The legislation directs local education agencies, or LEAs, to tap federal funding they received under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to help fund this year’s expanded summer school program.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction also held more than $66 million in reserve for LEAs to use on in-person summer school programs.

Those funds will be allocated to LEAs using a federal formula that prioritizes districts and schools with higher percentages of children from low-income families, according to Blair Rhoades, director of the Communications and Information Division of the DPI.

The legislation stipulates that in addition to addressing learning loss, each summer program must include in-person “social-emotional learning supports for all students” as well as enrichment activities, such as sports, art or music.

“The intent of the legislation is to hold in-person summer enrichment,” said Michael Maher, executive director of the DPI’s Office of Learning Recovery.

“The focused instructional periods are important, but we should not lose sight of the importance of the additional socio-emotional supports or the enrichment activities.” 

In March, the state estimated that 23% of students are at risk of retention this school year. That number may change as final test scores come in at the end of the year.

“At-risk” students who complete summer school will have their “promotion eligibility” reassessed by their principal after completing summer school and may be able to move on to the next grade.

All kindergarten students who participate in summer school will be advanced to first grade.

Each K-8 student will also take a competency-based assessment at the beginning and the end of the program to gauge progress.

As the end of the school year approaches, parents of students who are “at risk for retention” are being notified their child is eligible for the summer school program.

The legislation stipulates that these children get first priority, although the summer school programs are open to all students. Once districts determine how many students are attending summer school, they can finalize how many teachers and support staff the districts will need for the summer.

Finding teachers and staff

The school districts and the boards of education do not yet have final numbers for how many students plan to attend summer school. Once they do, they will need to move quickly to hire teachers and staff for the summer, since most programs will start in less than two months.

Recruiting teachers may be difficult after this long and demanding year of juggling both remote and in-person teaching. Teachers expressed that they need a break before the 2021-22 school year. 

 “Some teachers are eager to do summer school because it’s something they already love and know how to do,” said April Lee, a teacher and representative of Johnson County for the N.C. Association of Educators. But she also said that many teachers are tired after this year and even teachers who have previously taught summer school are saying, “This year, I need my time.” 

Lee’s district is aiming for a 10-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, but those goals are at the district’s discretion and may vary from district to district. 

Justin Parmenter, a language arts teacher and NCAE representative for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, said he’s “trying my damndest to get lost on the Appalachian Trail” as soon as the school year ends and is not interested in teaching summer school.

“Obviously, there is a need for summer school this year, and I know we will have some teachers who are willing to step up and do it well,” Parmenter said. “But there are a whole lot who are so burned out by this year they want nothing to do with it.”

As an incentive to teachers, House Bill 82 requires local boards to offer a signing bonus of $1,200 to teachers who meet certain requirements and a $150 bonus per student who becomes proficient in reading throughout the course of the program. The bill also encourages districts to incentivize teachers to join the program by offering things like larger bonuses and “varied contract durations.”

Christine Pejot, human resources officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, plans on offering both. 

“We are certainly going to meet the letter of the law, but we thought it was important to exceed that by recognizing all teachers and staff that work our summer school programs,” Pejot said.

The district will offer a $2,500 signing bonus to teachers and other licensed support staff who teach all six weeks of summer school. It is also giving those employees the option of teaching three of the six weeks and receiving a $1,200 signing bonus.

All unlicensed support staff, including custodial workers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, have the same option to work three or six weeks, with a $500 or $1,000 signing bonus, respectively.

Summer school will be offered in more locations this year than usual, so the districts will need more support staff to offer programs to students. House Bill 82 does not have language requiring LEAs to offer incentives for unlicensed support staff like cafeteria workers and bus drivers, Pejot said.

“We wanted to make sure that we recognize everyone who was giving back some of their hard-earned time … especially in a year like this, following a COVID-19 year,” she said.