RALEIGH — A bill making changes to K-12 education policy, calendars and remote instruction, Senate Bill 654, was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday, Aug. 30.
The bill went through multiple versions before a conference committee was assigned and produced a final proposed committee substitute (PCS). This version passed the Senate unanimously (44-0) and was nearly unanimous in the House, with a vote of 102-1. The lone “no” vote was state Rep. Terence Everitt (D-Wake).
The measure contains a provision that will require school boards to “vote at least once a month on whether the face-covering policy should be modified.”
In a July 21 briefing, Cooper said the state was not making masks mandatory for K-12 students for the current school year. He indicated that N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen had updated the StrongSchoolsNC toolkit that aligned with Centers of Disease Control guidance for schools.
Following the July StrongSchoolsNC toolkit update, 62 districts voted for making masks optional and 52 districts made them mandatory out of the 115 districts in the state. Prior to the announcement by Cooper and Cohen, districts were already rebelling, with Harnett voting in June to make masks optional; four other districts followed their lead in July.
Over the weeks that followed, 37 districts would reverse their mask-optional decision. During that time, Cooper sent a letter to districts that decided to make masks optional, urging them to reverse course.
As of Aug. 27, which marks the end of the first week of school for most districts, 89 school districts were requiring masks for students.
If signed, the bill will also authorize districts to make “day-to-day” decisions on whether or not to shift to remote instruction due to COVID-related issues like lack of staff and student quarantines. Districts would be required to report such a shift to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction within 72 hours.
Planned virtual instruction, such as the remote academies many districts set up during 2020, is authorized to continue, but the district must produce a plan with a long list of accountability-related requirements.
Remote instruction is authorized for schools if severe weather is a factor. Districts can use 15 remote instruction days or 90 remote instruction hours when schools are unable to open for weather-related reasons.
The provision delaying implementation of the state’s social studies standards approved by the State Board of Education earlier this year was removed from the bill. The revisions drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson over the inclusion of social justice topics and themes drawn from the controversial Critical Race Theory.
“I think they are politically charged. I think they are divisive, and I think they, quite frankly, smack of a lot of leftist dogma,” Robinson said at a January State Board of Education meeting.
A provision delaying the implementation of class-size requirements for kindergarten classes was also removed from the bill.
Various other changes in the bill deal with restoration of student driver’s licenses, teacher evaluation reporting and other conforming changes.