Cooper signs bill allowing public schools to operate remote academies

FILE - This file photo from Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, shows a first-grade teacher with students participating remotely and in-person. A recent report from the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction shows severe learning loss and regression among students in the state's public schools. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

RALEIGH — A bill allowing for public schools to establish and operate a “remote academy” are among the nearly 40 bills signed in recent weeks by North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

Senate Bill 671, titled Virtual Education/Remote Academies/Virtual Charters, repeals the sunset clause currently in state law that limits virtual instruction during emergencies and will allow public school districts, including public charter schools, to establish remote academies beginning in the 2023-24 school year.   

Senate Bill 671, now SL 2022-59, passed the Senate 44-0 and 81-27 in the House on July 1 and the bill went to the governor the same day. Cooper signed the measure on July 9. 

Under current law (S.L. 2021-130), schools with a remote plan on file with the state could only use 5 days or 30 hours of remote instruction to address weather closures and other emergencies during the school year. Certain districts or schools with histories of emergency closures were given up to 15 remote instruction days or 90 remote instruction hours. 

A remote academy is defined in the legislation as a “public school whose instruction is provided primarily online through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction delivered to students in a remote location outside of the school facility. A remote academy may include any combination of grade levels.” 

For the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, any virtual or remote instruction school with a school code assigned prior to May 1, 2021, or that submitted a virtual instruction plan for the 2021-2022 school year will be allowed to continue to provide virtual instruction.  Public charter schools that provided full-time virtual instruction in the 2021-2022 school year are also allowed to continue providing that type of instruction in the 2023-2024 school year. 

In order to attend a remote academy, the student would have to have parental consent and the district would have to provide the student with the appropriate hardware, software, internet access, technical support, and the correct level of academic support such as honoring a student’s individualized education plan or 504 plan.   

Districts would have to hire individuals that meet the licensure requirements as other staff and submit their remote academy plan to the State Board of Education. Additionally, districts and schools would be required to have “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.” 

The new law also transitions the schools in the virtual charter school pilot program from pilot status to complete a 10- year charter, with eligibility for renewal upon expiration. 

All remote academies would have to be evaluated to determine success or failure through an annual report to be given to the State Board of Education beginning November 15, 2024. 

About A.P. Dillon 753 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_