North Carolina: Gov. Cooper Passes Legislation Enabling Remote Academies To Be Operated By Public Schools

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In the last several weeks, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has signed over 40 measures, including a “remote academy” statute.

New legislation titled Virtual Education/Remote Academies/Virtual Charters repeals a sunset provision in the state statute that limits virtual education during crises and allows public school districts to create remote academies starting in the 2023-24 school year.

Bill SL 2022-59 was signed into law on July 1 after passing both houses of Congress 44-0 and 81-27, respectively. The bill was signed into law by Cooper on 9 July.

Schools having a remote plan on file with the state may only employ 5 days or 30 hours of remote teaching throughout the school year to handle weather closures and other emergencies. Some districts or schools with a history of emergency closures were authorized up to 15 days of remote instruction or 90 hours of remote instruction every school year, respectively.

As specified under the law, the term “remote academy” refers to a “online public school” where teaching is supplied largely through synchronous and/or asynchronous methods to pupils at a place outside of the school premises. Any combination of grade levels may be included in a remote academy.

For the forthcoming school year 2022-2023, any virtual or remote school having a school code assigned before May 1, 2021, or that filed a virtual instruction plan for the school year 2021-2022, will be permitted to continue providing virtual instruction. Schools that offered full-time virtual education in 2021-2022 will be permitted to continue doing so in the 2023-2024 school year as well.

Remote academy students would need parental agreement, as well as adequate technology, software, internet connectivity, technical help, and academic support, such as a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan.

A remote academy plan must be submitted to the State Board of Education by each district, which would require them to recruit additional personnel who fulfill the licensing standards for the position. A “sufficient digital teaching and learning support staff, including an instructional technology facilitator, school library media coordinator, data manager, and remote technicians to provide technical support,” would be needed for districts and schools.

The new legislation also allows the virtual charter school pilot program to transfer from a pilot status to a 10-year charter, with the option to renew upon expiry of the first term. The State Board of Education will require an annual report from all remote academies starting on November 15, 2024, to assess their success or failure.