RALEGH – Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that elementary schools will have the option to reopen if the school districts vote to allow in-person instruction.
The announcement comes as legislative leaders called for schools to open for in-person instruction on Wednesday and a vote by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to return some CMS students to schools in November.
No new executive order was issued, but the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services school reopening guidance was updated to reflect the elementary age student option for Plan A. Both Cooper and Cohen said this transition could be rescinded at any time depending on the state’s COVID metrics and “trends.” When asked about the specific goal for those metrics, the governor differed to Cohen on the “science and data.” Cohen did not offer any further specifics.
On Wednesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said, “For far too many kids, especially those from disadvantaged households who are already at risk of being left behind, virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck from which, according to Harvard public health experts, ‘some children may never recover.’ Gov. Cooper created this mess, and he needs to fix it by directing school districts to accept students for full-time instruction if their parents choose it.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest commented as well, saying, “All over the state, parents are fed up by the virtual learning that Gov. Cooper’s plan has forced on North Carolina. We’ve known for months that closed schools don’t work for working families. They don’t work for children with special needs and IEPs. That don’t work for other students, either, especially low-income students who are already at risk of falling behind. We must reopen schools to give parents the option of sending their children to the classroom full-time.”
“I want to be clear – plan A may not be right for districts and families, and districts will have flexibility to do what’s right for them,” Gov. Cooper said at Thursday’s briefing from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh.
Cooper credited the work North Carolinians have done and the science behind the impact COVID-19 has on younger children on the decision to allow Kindergarten through 5th grade students to return to classrooms. The students must wear face coverings and schools will screen for symptoms, but social distancing requirements will not be the same as they are for other indoor areas.
The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) quickly released its own statement, signaling continued opposition to returning to in-person instruction.
“As NCAE has been saying since the start of this pandemic, returning to in-person instruction is the goal for every educator in North Carolina, but it must be done safely to ensure the health of both educators and students,” said NCAE president Tamika Walker Kelly. “Local school districts already have significant flexibility to open for in-person instruction, and loosening guidelines further is flirting with danger. Maintaining a minimum six-foot social distance at all times is a critical safety measure for both educators and students, and we will not recommend for any educator to enter a non-distancing classroom without a properly fitted N-95 mask to protect their health, and the health of everyone around them.”
“Our trends show that we are on the right track. It’s up to all of us to protect our progress. Our individual actions like those 3 Ws will help keep our school doors open.,” said Secretary Cohen.
Dr. Cohen also explained that as schools have opened, the current science shows that younger children are less likely to become infected, have symptoms, experience severe disease or spread the virus.
“While we are anxious to return all students, we know that teachers, principals, and students need a gradual transition over the next 3 months. I ask our parents to remain patient, knowing that we are moving as quickly as is safely possible,” said Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education.
This is a developing story and will be updated.