RALEIGH — At a meeting of the State Board of Education held on Oct. 8, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest attempted to get the board to reopen all of the state’s schools on Plan A.
Near the close of the meeting, the board began their vote process on adoption of the revisions to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Strong Schools Public Toolkit. The revisions included health and safety protocols. Forest asked to offer up an amendment to open all K-12 schools for Plan A.
“Mr. Chair, I would just like to make an amendment to this motion to include all grades, all school districts, all charter schools as well and have the State Board work with NCDHHS and the Department of Public Instruction work with NCDHHS to come up with the guidelines to get all of the schools open, not just K-5,” said Forest.
Chairman Eric Davis asked for a second on the amendment, which was given, and then a series of back and forth discussions ensued. Davis asked for clarification on Forest’s motion, to which Forest reiterated his motion was to allow all schools to go into Plan A.
“Do we have the authority to do this? Or does that authority rest with the governor’s office or NCDHHS?” board member Jill Camnitz asked.
Davis said that before they get to the question of authority there was something more “pragmatic” to ask and that he suspected guidance they would get for middle and high school students might be “fundamentally different” than the guidance for K-5.
Forest said that perhaps the board should engage in discussions with NCDHHS about the guidance for middle and high school students but only when we “get to the point of Plan A” for those students. Davis concurred with that idea, but then said that the “governor has only authorized from Kindergarten through fifth grades going into Plan A at this time.”
“Is there anyone who can explain what the current legal guidance is? Because we’re not operating under an executive order in Plan A, Plan B, Plan C,” said Supt. Mark Johnson. “That came from the governor’s office, but I don’t think there’s an executive order for those plans.”
“The advice has notations to the governor’s action on Sept. 17 to include the Plan A option,” said board attorney Thomas Ziko. “That’s within the governor’s authority under his executive power under the emergency executive orders whether to open schools or not.”
Ziko then went on to say that “whether schools are opened and how they operate once they are opened would be within the board’s jurisdiction.”
“What was just mentioned by Mr. Ziko was the word ‘endorse’ and not ‘approve,’ and we’ve been using the word approve here as if the governor has authority over the State Board of Education in administering education statewide to our public schools,” said Forest. “That [authority] falls on this State Board of Education. That is our duty.”
“There are other districts in the state who want to be open in some capacity. Why would we as a board deny any school district this ability?” Forest asked.
Forest said there were numerous other instances when the board had taken elected officials to court when they usurp our constitutional authority.
“The session law 2020-49 says that we need DPI, NCDHHS and the State Board to agree on these things. So the amendment that I am proposing is to allow for all grades and all districts, public charter schools — not just K-5 — the ability to reopen,” said Forest. “I don’t think that’s very confusing.”
Forest continued, “This is the State Board’s job. This is guidance by the governor’s office, but we’re in charge of education statewide, and we know all of the secondary issues going on with these students by not being in school. We need to get them back in school, and that’s what this motion is about.”
Davis said that Forest had clarified his position but that the motion before them and the main motion before the board “does not deal with whether schools are open or closed” but just the approval of “health guidance.” Davis said that the question Forest raised in his amendment was “worthy of debate,” but that the motion in front of them was “limited in scope” to approving or not approving of the NCDHHS health guidance.
Forest said if his amendment was out of order, he would withdraw it but that his comments were still valid. There was no further discussion on the main motion and the board then voted unanimously to approve the NCDHHS health guidance.