RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Though North Carolina health officials are calling for all school districts to offer in-person learning, Republicans in the General Assembly say that doesn’t go far enough and are moving forward with legislation to further open schools.
The state Department of Health and Human Services is now only calling for remote learning to be an option for those who are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 and for families who choose that option.
“Ninety-six percent of students already are offered some version of in-person instruction. I think there are a last few holdouts that we’re trying to work on,” DHHS Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen told legislators Thursday.
The announcement came just two days after the Republican-controlled Senate tried and failed to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 37, which would require school districts to offer in-person learning.
Click here to view the bill.
Cooper raised concerns that the bill allows districts to choose which of the state’s social distancing plans to use when state guidance only calls for middle and high schools to return while maintaining six feet of distance.
He also said it would take power from local school boards to act in the event of another surge in cases.
“It moved everyone to Plan A as opposed to recognizing there are some circumstances because of the physical plant of the middle or high school where they may need to be in a hybrid,” said Cohen.
On Thursday, the state Board of Education adopted a resolution calling on all public school districts to offer in-person learning “to the fullest extent possible” by the end of March.
Republican Senate leaders are seeking to try a second time to override Cooper’s veto of SB 37.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Cooper continues to prohibit schools from operating under Plan A even if they wish to,” wrote Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger (R), in an email Thursday. “With every passing day, more school districts reach out to our senators saying they want to return to Plan A. At the same time, world-class researchers at the ABC Collaborative want to examine the data that comes out of schools operating under Plan A, just as they did for schools operating under Plan B a few months ago.”
It’s not clear when the Senate will schedule another veto override attempt.
The first override vote failed by one vote.
Sen. Ben Clark (D-Cumberland/Hoke) sponsored the bill but was absent from Monday’s vote.
He told CBS17 he wants to see the changes to it Cooper has requested before he would support it again.
“When you have a legislative process, you have to go through a lot of give and take. And, the expectation is always that maybe somewhere along the line those problems that you highlighted will be fixed. Unfortunately, they did not get fixed before they got to the Governor’s desk and the Governor served as the stop,” he said.
With the future of that override effort uncertain, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday that members will consider a bill next week that would allow a limited number of school districts to operate under the state’s minimal social distancing plan (Plan A).
That bill applies only to: Asheboro City Schools, Carteret County Schools, Haywood County Schools, Randolph County Schools and Yancey County Schools.
As a local bill, it would not be subject to Cooper’s veto.
“If you look at so many charter schools, private schools, and if you look at the public schools outside the state of North Carolina, we really are lagging behind. And, so parents are just desperate to get kids back into school for in-person learning,” said Moore. “This roughly a year that kids have been out of school has really taken a toll. Parents are saying enough is enough. We need to find a way to get children back.”