Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Middle and high schools may reopen fully pending new legislation, Gov. Cooper announces

A year after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all schools to close to in-person instruction, he is hoping to allow middle and high schools to reopen fully. (Port City Daily/File)

Local school systems will have the option to fully reopen middle and high schools pending the passage of a “compromise bill,” state legislators announced Wednesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper shared the news of reaching a bipartisan agreement alongside both Democratic and Republican leaders in a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon in downtown Raleigh. The bill under review would require K-5 schools to reopen fully under Plan A. It allows middle and high schools to transition to Plan A under some conditions or continue in Plan B, a hybrid model in which students learn from home part-time.

“I think we all want the same thing: to open our schools to in-person instruction for all students and to do it safely with important emergency protections,” Cooper said. “I believe, and our public health leaders agree, that we can do that safely with precautions like face mask and other safeguards.”

Related: Cooper says ‘We don’t intend to lift the mask mandate,’ as NC crosses 1 million full vaccinations

Districts making the switch would have to notify the Department of Health and Human Services and detail their plans for transitioning.

“The purpose here is to provide for consultation,” Senate leader Phil Berger explained. “However, DHHS will not have the authority to veto a district’s move to Plan A.”

The governor may only order a closure, restriction or reduction of operations on a district-by-district basis, and he must state the reasoning. Local systems would retain the right to shut down a school or classroom in response to an outbreak.

Districts entering Plan A would be required to partner with the ABC Science Collaborative, a collective of scientists and pediatric physicians who study Covid-19 impacts in schools. New Hanover County Schools is currently working with the collaborative and is providing anonymous data on its virus cases. In return, the researchers present findings that inform the board of education’s reopening decisions.

Within 21 days of the bill’s passage, districts would be required to reopen elementary schools fully. Pender and Brunswick counties have been in Plan A since the fall, and New Hanover County K-5 schools resumed their normal face-to-face schedule this past Monday.

From the date the bill is signed into law to the start of full-time operations, schools may schedule teacher workdays to allot time to prepare for the switch.

The new legislation would also require that students with an IEP or a 504 Plan are given the option of learning in-person five days a week if the parents prefer.

Districts must continue offering families the option of all-remote instruction in all grade levels.

Cooper, a Democrat, has pushed for the reopening of schools over the past month, even moving educators and school staff up the vaccine queue to encourage districts to reopen, but he stopped short of approving Senate Bill 37.

The governor said in a Feb. 18 press conference he disagreed with the school reopening bill because it did not follow N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidance and prevented state and local officials from returning to remote instruction in case of an emergency. He indicated then he was open to negotiations but eventually vetoed the bill.

“Coming to agreement after acrimony isn’t always easy, but it’s the right thing to do for North Carolina,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he hopes to sign the new legislation this week.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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