NCDHHS updates in-person instruction guidance as N.C. Senate will reconsider veto override

N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen speaks at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – On March 3, the N.C. Senate approved a motion to reconsider a veto override of SB 37, the bill to return all students to in-person instruction.

Earlier in the afternoon, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance in the department’s StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit that would instruct schools to offer in-person learning to the fullest extent possible while following all public health protocols, according to a release.

NCDHHS says the updated guidance recognizes the growing harms to children who are out of school and relying solely on remote instruction – including negative impacts on academics, mental health and food insecurity. The new guidance says schools should only use remote learning options for higher-risk students and for families that opt for remote learning for their children.

Both Plan A and Plan B in the toolkit still require face coverings to be worn by students, teachers, and staff indoors at all times.

The State Board of Education will vote on Thursday, March 4 on whether to formally adopt the update.

“Extensive research tells us we can bring students back to the classroom with the right measures in place,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen. “And students need in-person school not only for academics, but to learn social skills, get reliable meals, and to continue to grow and thrive.”

During a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday morning, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt advocated for all students to return to the classroom, calling Plan B worse than a “slight” risk COVID-19 poses under Plan A.  In her remarks, she also said schools should consider moving from six-feet social distancing to 3-feet.

The N.C. Democratic Party, meanwhile, criticized the motion to reconsider vote, with state chair Bobbie Richardson saying, “Our kids deserve better than these legislative schemes by Senate Republicans who seem to care more about launching political attacks instead of working to find a compromise that gets students back into the classroom safely.”

A poll conducted by the Carolina Partnership for Reform showed 73% of registered voters supported requiring in-person instruction following the bill’s passage on Feb. 17.

Senate Republicans said they will provide Senate Democrats with at least 24 hours notice before a veto override vote is taken.