Gov. Cooper reiterates concerns over school reopening bill, does not say if he will veto it

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Gov. Roy Cooper (D) reiterated concerns he had Thursday but did not say if he would veto a bill the General Assembly passed this week to require K-12 public schools offer the option of in-person learning.

The North Carolina Association of Educators called on Cooper to veto the bill Thursday, as Republicans in the legislature called on him to act and not “drag out” the decision.

Cooper said he still takes issue with the bill allowing school districts to choose whether to follow the state’s minimal or moderate social distancing plans as they reopen. State health officials have only called for middle and high schoolers to return under Plan B, which calls for six feet of distance.

The bill also keeps local school officials from moving an entire district to remote learning in the event of a surge in cases. It does allow them to move individual classrooms or schools to remote learning.

“The bill they just passed fails on both of these fronts,” he said. “Suppose this variant causes significant problems and you have in the legislation, students still have to be in person in the classroom.”

The bill passed with enough support from Democrats that the legislature could override Cooper’s veto. He also has the option of allowing the bill to become law without his signature, which would occur ten days after the bill passed.

Despite recent issues with getting doses of the COVID-19 vaccine delivered to North Carolina due to severe weather across the country, Cooper said he still anticipates the state being able to open up vaccinations to employees of schools and child care facilities next Wednesday.

The state was scheduled to receive about 290,000 doses of vaccine this week, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The agency said none of the 163,300 doses manufactured by Moderna had arrived here yet, while about half of the 126,750 doses produced by Pfizer have arrived.

Though teachers will be prioritized to get the vaccine, the NCAE is urging Cooper not to approve the school reopening legislation.

“He should veto this bill because we know it does not do enough for school safety,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker-Kelly. “Pushing them back into in-person instruction hastily without making sure that we have the resources that they need to make sure that we have the safety measures that they need is not the way to do that. So, those are legitimate concerns, but there’s a way to address them that ensures their safety.”

Cooper said he’s reaching out to Republican leaders in the General Assembly to try to address his concerns. However, they’ve urged him to make a decision.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-45th District) said, “Parents and children have waited long enough for some level of certainty in their public education. I hope that Gov. Cooper chooses not to drag this out for another week and a half. This is a two-page bill that’s been in the public for weeks. If a veto is coming, then do it now so the legislature can vote to override. If the Governor intends to let it become law, then he should sign it instead of taking the politically expedient option of dragging this out to the end of the month just so he can tell the far-left NCAE he didn’t attach his signature to it.”

If the bill does become law, schools would have 15 days to comply.

Cooper noted Thursday that 91 of the state’s 115 school districts are currently offering some form of in-person learning.

Two conservative groups, the State Government Leadership Foundation and N2 America, began running an ad Thursday in North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan and New Jersey (all run by Democratic governors) calling for schools to reopen.

“Education policy should be guided by one key principle — what’s best for the kids. Instead, it’s been about what’s best for everyone else, including liberal politicians that would rather turn their backs on the children they are supposed to serve than muster the courage to stand up to their union bosses,” said SGLF Executive Director Dee Duncan in a statement Thursday.

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