By Nathan Ham
After weeks of what appeared to be a stalemate between Governor Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Legislature, the two sides finally came together on an agreement that will allow K-5 students to be back in the classroom full-time while also allowing for flexibility for grades 6-12 between in-person learning and remote learning.
Under Senate Bill 220, schools opening under Plan A for Grades 6-12 will be required to detail their plans to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), but the Department will not have the authority to veto a local district’s decision. Gov. Cooper will also maintain the power to close certain schools or districts should COVID-19 cases increase in certain areas. Remote learning will be available for all students K-12 should students and their families feel more comfortable remaining at home.
Gov. Cooper officially signed the bill into law on Thursday.
“Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies,” Cooper said in a statement.
In a rare showing of bipartisanship in this day and age of politics, state and local Republicans were also optimistic about the bill and the benefits it will have for children across North Carolina.
“I was excited to see support for opening up the schools across our great state that have not yet returned to in-person learning,” said Rep. Ray Pickett, who represents Watauga County and Ashe County in the N.C. House. “The incredible ability of the Legislature and the Governor to come together on this bipartisan issue and create an outcome that helps the children suffering educationally get back on track was truly inspiring.”
The original bill, Senate Bill 37 was filed on February 1 by Senator Deanna Ballard to allow students to return to schools for in-person instruction. After bipartisan passage through the Legislature, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Cooper on February 26. The Senate attempted to override the veto but did not have the votes to do so. Legislative leaders met with Governor Cooper to work out a compromise that then became Senate Bill 220.
“Today is just the beginning of our road to education recovery for countless North Carolina families who need our continued focus to get caught up and ready for the learning opportunities ahead for them,” said Speaker Tim Moore on Thursday. “This was a shared effort by state leaders to respond to the voices of North Carolina parents, students, and taxpayers who deserve education systems that function at the highest level every day. Our work continues to ensure students have access to intense learning recovery opportunities this semester, this summer, and next year.”