Gov. Cooper signs in-person school reopening bill into law in North Carolina

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 7:33 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - Governor Roy Cooper has signed the in-person school reopening bill into law in North Carolina.

Cooper and state lawmakers reached an agreement Wednesday to reopen public K-12 schools. The governor and senate leader Phil Berger made the announcement in downtown Raleigh Wednesday morning.

The compromise agreement requires all elementary school students to operate under Plan A, full in-person learning. Middle and high schools would have the option to operate under Plan A or Plan B.

The effective date for the legislation is 21 days after Cooper signs the bill and it’s ratified.

Governor Cooper shared this statement:

“Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies,” Cooper said.

The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Thursday to Senate Bill 220 The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 requiring Grades K-5 to open full-time for students under ‘Plan A’ in-person instruction.

The governor does have authority to order a closure, restriction or reduction of operations within schools but must only do so on a district by district basis. “Today I’m pleased to announce an agreement to get students in school safely and surely,” Cooper said Wednesday.

Berger called the joint decision a “fair compromise that returns many students to fulltime in-person instruction.”

Each of the lawmakers say they are excited about this compromise bill, and that they believe this is “good news” for parents and their children. “All sides have seen and agreed to the language in the bill,” Berger said.

Any districts that plans to move middle and high school to Plan A must notify the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services beforehand and describe their plan for moving to the plan. The purpose is to provide consultation. NCDHHS will not have the authority to veto this.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools voted to bring students back to the classroom more often. This comes after the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted guidance from state health leaders urging schools to open for in-person learning “to the fullest extent possible” while following health and safety protocols.

CMS will have all elementary school students (K through 5 and K through 8) back for in-person learning four days a week starting March 22 until May 11. Wednesday would be a remote-learning day for all students.

Click here for the latest learning plans for districts our area

In February, Cooper vetoed a bill aimed at requiring an in-person option for all schools in the state.

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

Cooper previously said the bill “falls short” of the state’s COVID-19 safety guidance.

School systems have had a mix of in-person and virtual learning for nearly a year due to the pandemic.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) discussed the next steps Tuesday in moving forward with the bill.

Berger said Tuesday that he and senators had been in a direct negotiations with Cooper on a school reopening compromise plan.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will reach a deal very soon,” Berger said. Ballard said she has been “fighting hard” to get students back into the classroom for in-person instruction.

On March 1, the North Carolina Senate failed to override Cooper’s veto.

Twenty-nine opposing votes led to the Senate’s failure to override the veto. The Senate would have needed three-fifths of the vote.

School systems have had a mix of in-person and virtual learning for nearly a year due to the pandemic.

“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.

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