RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and state legislative leaders announced a compromise on a bill that will reopen schools across the state.
Cooper, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R), announced the new bill on Wednesday after the governor had vetoed an earlier bill aimed at mandating in-person learning.
“Today, I’m pleased to stand with these leaders an announce an agreement to get all students in school safely and surely,” Cooper said.
The Senate voted 49-0 in favor of the school reopening bill Wednesday. House leaders anticipate voting on it Thursday morning. After Cooper signs it into law, school districts would have three weeks to comply.
The governor cited the decline in COVID-19 infection rates in the state as reason behind the push begin getting students back in class.
“The good news is that we all want the same thing – to open our schools to in-person instruction and to do it safely with important emergency protections,” Cooper said.
Berger said all sides have seen the language in the bill and agree upon it.
“We’ve reached a compromise agreement on school reopening that returns many students to full, in-person learning,” Berger said.
Specifics of the bill (in part):
- All elementary schools must operate under Plan A
- Local districts have the option of Plan A or B for middle and high schools
- Districts moving to Plan A for middle and high schools must notify the state health department prior to moving to that plan.
- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services does not have the authority to veto a district’s decision to move to Plan A.
- The governor has the authority to order a closure, restriction or reduction of operation within schools but can only do so on a district-by-district basis.
- Districts can also close a school or classroom in the case of an outbreak.
“North Carolina can be a national leader in reopening schools and producing world-class analysis to enable other states to follow suit,” said Sen. Berger. “We’ve reached what I think is a fair compromise that returns many students to full-time, in-person instruction.”
The North Carolina Association of Educators criticized the agreement.
“NCAE continues to stress the need for 6 feet of social distancing as recommended by the CDC in areas of high community spread to protect students and educators. This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with CDC guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly in a statement. “It is deeply disturbing that the governor and legislative leaders failed to acknowledge the work that educators have been doing to keep students engaged and learning during the worst pandemic in a century while effectively absolving themselves of any further responsibility for the health and safety of our public schools and those who learn and work in them.”
When Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 37, which also required schools to open for in-person learning, one of the reasons he cited was that it did not comply with state guidelines that call for middle and high schools to operate with six feet of distance.
The bill he’s agreed on with legislative leaders would now allow for that to happen.
When asked what’s changed about that concern, Cooper said, “Well, first there is a three-week period before this bill becomes effective, number one. Number two, our metrics continue to improve.”
Cooper also cited the authority he’ll have to move a district to remote learning if that becomes.
Additionally, he made school employees eligible to vaccinated in late February before other frontline essential workers.
Middle and high schools that choose to operate under Plan A will have to notify the state Department of Health and Human Services, develop a plan for how they will do that, and work with the ABC Science Collaborative, which studies the spread of COVID-19 in schools.