Act To Provide Access To In-Person Learning For Students In Grades K-12 (Senate Bill 37)

Act To Provide Access To In-Person Learning For Students In Grades K-12 (Senate Bill 37)

Ana Casarella, Falcon Post Staff

Just as February came around senators in the North Carolina Congress proposed a new bill, Senate Bill 37, that was under debate for most of the month. This bill would mandate that schools must provide the option for in-person learning under the previously outlined Plan A or Plan B. Fifteen days after the bill is completely passed, schools must be open for in-person learning. On February 1, senators filed the bill. Senator Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) were the primary sponsors. The bill passed through three readings with several proposed amendments. Ultimately, it passed through the House with a 77-42 vote, all Republicans voted in favor, joined by eight Democrats on February 17. The bill was sent to Governor Roy Cooper to be signed. Once on Cooper’s desk, he had the option to sign it immediately into law, veto it, or let it sit for 10 days with no action after which it would automatically become law. Cooper delayed signing or vetoing the bill for days. During this time, he voiced concerns over the safety measures the bill requires schools to provide as well as how it failed to provide state and local officials the ability to force schools to return to online learning in case of an emergency. On February 26, Cooper vetoed the bill, saying that he would be willing to sign it only once his concerns about safety measures were addressed. This still allowed the North Carolina Senate the possibility of passing the bill if they were able to get a three-fifths majority vote. On March 1, the vote was taken and the veto was sustained 29-20, one vote short of a three-fifths majority.

Those who support Senate Bill 37 reference two significant studies as support for mandating reopenings. The first, a CDC report stating that there “little evidence that schools

have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” The second, a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in conjunction with Duke looking at school districts in North Carolina. This study concluded that school reopenings can be done safely so long as CDC guidelines are in place and followed. Concerns over the rising rates of depression and anxiety, high failure rates, and a potentially lasting impact on the well-being of children have all been used as reasoning to support the forced reopening of schools. Those not in favor of Senate Bill 37 have questioned these references and have ongoing concerns about the mandatory option of in-person learning. In particular, Governor Cooper wants the bill to require schools to follow the NC Department of Health and Human Services as well as the CDC guidelines.

Many people are asking the questions: What did the bill itself state? What might it mean for DPS and Jordan students and teachers? First of all, no student would be required to return to in-person learning. All students will be given the option to remain in remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Schools must provide the option of Plan A in-person learning for those with exceptional needs or an individualized education program. For all other K-12 students, schools have the choice to offer Plan A or Plan B in-person learning. (Jordan is choosing to offer Plan B beginning April 8.) This entails in-person learning two days a week, on a cohort rotation, to help minimize the number of people in the building at a time. The bill also requires that schools comply with the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit. Local boards of education are encouraged to coordinate with local health departments to help facilitate the distribution of the vaccine. Cooper announced that on February 24, phase three of the vaccine distribution could begin with priority being given to teachers, child care workers, and other school staff members. In regards to teachers’ decisions to return to in-person classrooms, “local boards of education shall create a process for teachers and staff to self-identify as high-risk from

COVID-19 and have a plan in place to address requests for alternative work reassignments.” Further, for those self-identifying as high risk, school boards may “modify job responsibilities to minimize exposure risk, or allow them to telework if possible.” This also includes teachers and staff who may be caring for an individual who is high risk. Should a concern over COVID-19 cases or exposures arise, the bill allows that local boards of education have the authority to shift classrooms or schools back to remote learning.

The pressure for schools to return to in-person learning has been high. Republicans and Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly, along with Governor Cooper, urge schools to reopen, however, there have been disagreements over how and when this should occur. Cooper and many of the Democrats say that the decision should be left to local control, while Republicans are pushing for a mandate to force the reopening of schools statewide. Although Cooper is continuing to support school reopening, he voiced concerns multiple times about the bill before he ultimately vetoed it. In a statement made Wednesday, February 17 he said that Senate Bill 37 “falls short” of his expectations and “as written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic.” Although Senate Bill 37 was vetoed, Cooper and the NC government officials continue to discuss different potential school reopening plans.

Sources: ouraging-schools-to-reopen/ -person-option/ 02039 us-vaccines-timelines-teachers-front-line-workers/275-679f257d-e16a-4e64-bd38-79655978ec0 20Handout%20-%20Master_0.pdf ols/ oper-who-says-it-falls-short/amp/ ort/ 31213341

Old draft of bill: