In North Carolina, COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and the virus continues to threaten our health, economy and the future of our education systems. Our state government has determined how we safely bring students back to school — in-person, virtually or a mix of both — without sacrificing our state’s collective health:

  • Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing — implemented if COVID-19 metrics stabilize and/or move in a positive direction.
  • Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing — required if COVID-19 metrics worsen.
  • Plan C: Remote Learning Only — suspend in-person learning and implement remote learning plans. Will be implemented if COVID-19 metrics worsen significantly.

But no matter which path forward is chosen, North Carolina will inevitably need additional federal funding to make it happen.

Over the past few months, teachers in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and throughout the nation have navigated through unprecedented challenges. In addition to teaching remotely and virtually, many of them have gone above and beyond to support the emotional and physical well -being of students who have been struggling to cope during this strange, new normal. As a family member of children learning remotely and virtually and a teacher myself, I can attest to the struggles that teachers and students are facing.

If the virus remains present during the upcoming school year, our teachers will continue to face these challenges. In order to ensure that remote learning opportunities are available and effective, our schools will need a significant investment in their technology infrastructure — and that means additional funding for state and local municipalities from the federal government.

In order to successfully transition students and staff safely back into our school buildings, we will also need the resources to implement health and safety protocols. For example, before the pandemic, students often shared textbooks and equipment. This may no longer be possible as we try to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools need additional funding to ensure that students can learn in a safe environment.

Our schools will also require the resources to help students overcome any academic learning loss, trauma, economic and food insecurities caused by the pandemic. Although the virus has impacted everyone, it has particularly harmed students of color, high-poverty students, students with disabilities and English learners. If we want these students to thrive, we will need the resources to address their individual needs.

In order to implement a safe reopening plan in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, we need at least an extra $40 million to support excessive transportation needs, equip all schools with the safety measures approved by CDC and state guidelines, and additional health care professional staffing to highlight just a few COVID-19 expenses. As we and other school districts around the country are planning to open schools safely, we simply cannot require students and staff to return to buildings that place them at greater exposure and risk.

Public schools is one of the pillars of our great democracy. It is the greatest manifestation of our country’s traditional motto, “E pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one.” Public schools in America welcome and educate all races, nationalities, religions, genders, classes, exceptionalities, preferences, etc. Our educational system not only sustains America, it is a beacon of light for the world. Although I believe that our educational system has its challenges, even before this pandemic, I am hopeful that we can emerge stronger and more united.

As Congress considers the next round of federal funding, I hope it will engage in a bipartisan discussion and consider the repercussions that a lack of additional federal funding would have on our public school system. Ultimately, our students and teachers are counting on congressional help and leadership for a safe and successful upcoming school year. This leadership is most important now because Congress must make a decision that may be unpopular, nonpartisan and undebatable.

Our children must be educated safely! Please don’t let them down — they are the future of our state, North Carolina, and country.

Malishai Woodbury is chairwoman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

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