news 4 days ago

Getting young drivers on the road

The Star, Shelby, N.C. — Dustin George The Star, Shelby, N.C.

June 30-- Jun. 30--Driver's education teachers and students around Cleveland County are anxiously awaiting a green light so they can get behind the wheel.

Earlier this month the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 158, which among other things, allowed for driver's education classes to resume pending guidance from the state Department of Education.

Since the bill's passage and Gov. Roy Cooper signing it into law, Cleveland County Schools transportation director David Pless has put his staff to work getting vehicles ready to get back to work.

"We are just waiting on that guidance, and we are ready to go. It could be coming any minute now," said Pless. "When it does, I want our teachers on the phone calling students and scheduling their road time."

While there is no way to know exactly what the state guidance for driver's education will be, Pless said he has taken some educated guesses at what his program will need.

Transportation staff have been working in recent weeks to get cars cleaned and sanitized. When driving does resume, each car will feature a new suite of safety equipment including masks and forehead thermometers.

"We anticipate the guidance will be each time a kid changes from the back seat to the front seat to drive, we will clean the driving area," said Pless. "We've bought masks, and everybody in the car will wear masks including the teacher."

Students will also be required to fill out a symptoms survey every time they get ready to ride.

Playing catch up

Drivers education programs at all four Cleveland County high schools were put on hold in March as the coronavirus pandemic caused schools to close and all instruction to go online. Cars previously used to get student drivers their first taste of the open road were used to shuttle lunches across the district.

While courses like English and math resumed online almost without interruption, driver's education classes stayed on hold until early June. Since classes resumed, students at all four schools have managed to complete the classroom portion of driver's education but are still waiting to hit the road. They are not alone.

"The online course has truthfully put us even more behind," Pless said. "It's great to have those kids taking class, but we haven't driven the kids that took the class in January, February and March. My goal in doing the online class was as soon as DPI says yes, you can go back to doing road work. We are not spending our time doing classes. I want all of our teachers, as soon as they say yes to road work, to be on the road to get us caught up instead of teaching the book work."

Students drive in the order of oldest to youngest, so those who finished their classroom portion early in the year will get the first dibs on getting behind the wheel. But catching up on months of missed work will still take time to do. Pless said he expects it'll take at least a year before the program is back to where it was before the pandemic shut it down.

"Shutting down the program for what is going to end up being four months, it'll take us a long time to get caught up," he said. "There's only so many hours in a day."

As if being four months behind wasn't enough, the CCS driver's education program is also returning with a shortage of instructors.

Last year the district had two instructors who taught in the program retire. Pless said he found two more teachers to take their place, but the Department of Motor Vehicles canceled their training session when it closed due to the coronavirus. It has not said when those teachers will be able to come and get certified to teach driver's education.

When road time resumes, the district will have 12 instructors to take students on the road.

Dustin George can be reached at 704-669-3337 or Dustin.George@ShelbyStar.com. Find him on Twitter @DustinatTheStar.

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