Gov. Cooper says N.C. lawmakers’ school reopening bill ‘falls short’

Gov. Cooper says N.C. lawmakers’ school reopening bill ‘falls short’
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says a bill aimed at requiring an in-person option for all public school in the state “falls short” of his expectations. (Source: AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV/AP) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says a bill aimed at requiring an in-person option for schools in the state “falls short” of his expectations.

Senate Bill 37, that would require school systems to offer in-person instruction, is moving through the General Assembly with the House likely to vote on a final version later Wednesday.

The bill would allow students to continue remote learning if they choose. School systems have had a mix of in-person and virtual learning for nearly a year due to the pandemic.

Gov. Cooper provided a statement Wednesday morning.

“Children should be back in the classroom safely and I can sign this legislation if it adheres to DHHS health safety guidance for schools and protects the ability of state and local leaders to respond to emergencies. This bill currently falls short on both of these fronts,” Cooper said.

Cooper could veto the legislation when it lands on his desk. As Republicans no longer hold supermajorities in the General Assembly, some Democrats would need to vote with them on any veto-override.

Senate Bill 37 requires schools to provide access to in-person learning under Plan A (minimal social distancing) for students with exceptional needs. It also requires schools to provide in-person learning options for all K-12 students under either Plan A or Plan B (moderate social distancing).

The bill also allows students with exceptional needs to be provided in-person learning under Plan A if parents choose that option. All families are still able to select remote learning under the plan.

Families would still have the choice of remote learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Schools will be required to follow all guidance from the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit, which was developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Studies have shown that with mitigation efforts schools can reopen safely. Gov. Cooper, along with N.C. Superintendent Catherine Truitt, urged local districts to allow the option of in-person learning in public schools.

“For months we’ve heard from families and students who are clamoring to return to in-person learning. The science and data show that we can reopen schools safely,” Sens. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), chairs of the Senate Education Committee and primary sponsors of the bill, said. “The Governor’s empty rhetoric about the importance of in-person instruction does nothing to help kids. The General Assembly is taking decisive action to actually get students back to school.”

Cooper opposes the measure, but he favors local control for deciding on school reopening. Cooper recently urged school districts to offer in-person instruction as an option to parents.

Supporters of the bill argue parents would still be allowed to have their child learn remotely and say schools would have a couple of weeks to ensure safety standards are implemented before reopening.

Cooper said that research conducted in North Carolina “tells us that in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely, with the right safety protocols in place.” The NCDHHS told the State Board of Education last week that COVID-19 cases associated with K-12 schools accounted for 0.15% of the state’s total cases as of Jan. 30.

The CDC concluded there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in conjunction with Duke University and other institutions has concluded that the reopening of schools to in-person learning can be done safely.

The study looked at data from 11 school districts in North Carolina that were open for in-person instruction from August through October. At least 90,000 students and staff are part of those systems and data showed, according to the study, that only 32 cases of COVID-19 could be traced back to transmission inside the schools.

Doctors who examined the data said following CDC rules were having a significant effect.

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