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CHCCS suspends driver's education instruction; OCS launches virtual program

DTH Photo Illustration. Due to COVID-19, high schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro have halted Drivers Education programs for the 2020-2021 academic year. Local students have been left to find creative solutions for learning to drive.

Students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will have to wait to receive school-sponsored driving instruction after suspension of the program due to coronavirus concerns.

The program was restricted to online-only instruction before being fully canceled on Aug. 19. This is the second cancellation of driver’s education in CHCCS this year after a statewide cancellation in March. 

Patrick Abele, assistant superintendent of the district, said he is working to reopen the program.

“Our first priority was to restart the classes that were stopped in March when the schools closed for in-person instruction,” Abele said. “We recognize the difficulty placed on families, staff and our vendor when classes were canceled but understand the seriousness of any operation taking place during this time.”

For students like Ryland Denson, a first-year student at Carrboro High School, being able to drive represents a kind of freedom. 

“I think (driving) will definitely have a lot of benefits for me, especially when things start to open back up,” Denson said. “I have a lot of extracurriculars I’m doing through the school, and a lot of things that would require my parents to drive me places.”

In North Carolina, provisional driver's licenses are divided into three tiers: 

  • A learner's permit requires 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.
  • The level two provisional license is achieved by driving 60 hours with parental supervision and passing a driver's test.
  • A full provisional license is given after six months of driving accident-free on the level two license.

A bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in June allows students to receive their level two provisional license without an exam. This leaves the six-hour behind-the-wheel instruction needed to achieve the learner's permit the only portion of driver's education that requires exposure to a person outside a student’s household.

The same bill allows school districts to reopen their driver’s education programs. Abele said CHCCS had reopened online driver's education instruction before its second cancellation of the program on Aug. 19.

The Jordan Driving School of the Carolinas usually administers the district's driver education program. 

Eddie B. Jordan, owner, president and CEO of Jordan Driving School, said the company is seeing more business return.

“Most of the school systems (are) back running our programs,” Jordan said. “Chapel Hill hasn’t as of yet, but I’m sure at some point they’re going to.”

Jordan said the driving school has also been offering private instruction since the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles allowed it to in May. He said the driving school has since scaled back this sector of its business due to more school systems reopening their driver’s education programs.

“We’re doing the same thing pretty much everybody in society’s doing,” Jordan said. “We’re sanitizing the vehicles, we’re wearing face coverings. When students switch out, we sanitize the cars, we keep the windows cracked."

Other private instruction companies are still servicing students as well. One company, All Around Driving School, has no classes available until late December.

Abele said students should expect a restart of CHCCS’ online driver's courses in October.

Orange County Schools restarted its driver's education program Sept. 14. Students enrolled in the program at the time of the March cancellation received credit for completing the classroom instruction portion.

Neither school district has concrete plans in place to restart behind-the-wheel instruction.

“It is important we have safe protocol and effective guidelines in place to protect students before a full restart of the program,” Abele said. 

According to Abele, CHCCS is sending data and protocol to be reviewed by the North Carolina State Board of Education.

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According to OCS’ website, the district is waiting until social distancing is no longer necessary to restart behind-the-wheel instruction. This is subject to change as more information becomes available.


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