RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) — Gov. Roy Cooper stressed the importance for public schools to reopen on Tuesday, saying in his press conference “our number one priority has been getting our children safely back into the classroom.”
“I’m joined by state education leaders to strongly urge that all schools provide in-person learning for students,” Cooper said. “It’s important schools follow the safety protocols laid out by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That guidance reinforces in-person learning while maintaining strong public health measures.
“School is important for reasons beyond academic instruction. School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices. Teachers play an important role in keeping students safe by identifying cases of abuse, hunger, homelessness and other challenges.”
North Carolina schools switched to remote learning in March, and public health experts worked with the state to develop options to make sure education continues despite the pandemic.
Cooper said that all schools should provide in-person learning and continue to follow health protocols. He did add, however, that teachers who are at risk should continue to teach virtually.
Cooper said 90 of the 115 public school districts in the state are providing in-person instruction for some or all students. He said research shows “in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely with the right safety protocols.”
Cooper was joined by NC Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen, State Schools Superintendent Cathy Truitt and State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis. Both stressed the importance of students returning to in-person learning while also practicing safety protocols due to COVID-19.
“Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools,” Cohen said. “Our Department will continue to serve our school communities, offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.”
The state reported increasing evidence suggests that, with prevention measures in place, there are low rates of COVID-19 transmission in primary and secondary school settings even with high rates of community transmission. In addition, ongoing medical studies and peer-reviewed data affirm that children infected with COVID-19 generally have mild or no symptoms, and are less likely to spread the disease.
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“Learning loss resulting from COVID has the potential to be a generational hurdle, but the data we have seen shows us that schools can reopen safely if they adhere to COVID prevention policies,” said Truitt. “For many schools, the logistics of returning to in-person instruction five days per week will be a challenge, but this is absolutely a challenge we must face head on so that all students have a chance to fulfill their potential. With strong prevention measures in place, and the scientific research to back them, now is the time to act. North Carolina’s students cannot lose any more time.”
“We know that to equitably and fully address the needs of the whole child in every student, it is imperative that schools reopen for in-person instruction,” said Davis. “Since August, public school leaders have proven the merits of the safety protocols that have kept our schools safe for students and staff.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Truitt told CBS affiliate WNCN she would stand with Cooper in calling for public schools to reopen. She said they would be “singing from the same songbook” during Tuesday’s press conference.
“Students should still have the option of remote learning this school if that is best for them,” Cooper said. “And teachers who are at risk should be providing that remote instruction. But students who are ready to return to the classrooms should have that chance.
“This pandemic has tested us in different ways. But our educators and school staff have never stopped showing up for our students. Our teachers have worked to engage our students, whether remotely or in-person. Our custodial staff has worked to keep schools clean and safe.”
Cooper also praised parents and other school workers for their part in making sure students get the education they need while also staying safe while in class.
“Our bus drivers have gotten meals to students and taken them to and from school safely,” Cooper said. “I know how hard you are working and that your state appreciates deeply your extraordinary service.
“Parents deserve a lot of credit and thanks. We know they’ve served as teacher assistants at home on top of their jobs and other responsibilities. Our students have worked hard to learn amid unprecedented challenges. I’m grateful for the way people have stepped up for our schools.”
Cooper said Tuesday that North Carolina has had 764,228 confirmed cases; 2,926 new cases reported since Monday; 2,741 people in the hospital; and, 9,409 people who have died.
“We are praying for those who are fighting this virus and those who have lost loved ones and friends to COVID,” Cooper said.
Read the letter state leaders sent to school board members and superintendents.
Cooper pointed out safety measures that have been taken by the state since the pandemic started, including safety protocols and virtual learning, saying “We’ve taken decisive action to put strong safety protocols in place, including in our schools.”
“Learning has continued,” Cooper said about online learning. “Educators, parents and students have persevered. We have learned much more about this virus. And now it is time to get our children back in the classroom.
“When the pandemic first hit in March, we moved to remote instruction to keep people safe from this virus we knew little about. We asked science and public health experts to develop safety plans to help students continue learning, whether in the classroom or at home.”
MyFOX8.com and CBS17.com also contributed to this story.