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NC House passes school reopening bill; governor says it ‘falls short”

RALEIGH — Senate Bill 37, which would require all North Carolina public schools to offer an in-person learning option for K-12 students, is heading to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk after the N.C. House passed it 77-42 on Wednesday. The N.C. Senate previously approved the bill 31-16.

On Wednesday morning, before the House voted, Cooper warned that he wouldn’t sign the bill in its current form — but he didn’t specifically indicate he’d veto it. The bill can still become law without his signature.

“Children should be back in the classroom safely and I can sign this legislation if it adheres to DHHS health safety guidance for schools and protects the ability of state and local leaders to respond to emergencies,” Cooper said. “This bill currently falls short on both of these fronts.”

District 79 Rep. Keith Kidwell voted in favor of the bill.  Sen. Ernestine Bazemore did not cast a vote on S.B. 37.

Kidwell referenced several studies —including some that show COVID-19 transmission rates in school environments are low, and others that detail the negative physical, emotional and intellectual outcomes associated with students missing out on in person instruction.

“The governor even a couple weeks ago said it was time to get our kids back in school,” Kidwell said.

“The science says we’re OK to send them back, so let’s go ahead and do it.”

The bill would require schools to offer full-time, in-person classes for students with special needs. It would also require boards of education to offer in-person instruction under either Plan A (minimal social distancing) or Plan B (moderate social distancing) for all students in grades K-12.  Remote learning would still be an option in all cases, but families would need to stick with either in-person or remote learning for the rest of the school year.

School boards would still have the authority to shift individual classrooms or schools that are providing in-person classes to remote learning in response to COVID-19 exposures.

In anticipation of the House vote, the Beaufort County Board of Education discussed S.B. 37 during its meeting on Tuesday night.

Cheeseman told the board members that, if the bill becomes law, they’d be able to come together and vote on how to proceed with the school year. The changes could be implemented as of March 15, the start of the fourth quarter of the school year.  Cheeseman said that would give administrators time to educate families about any approved changes.

Chairwoman Carolyn Walker said the bill would be beneficial for teachers because it would stop students from constantly bouncing between in-person and remote learning.

“That kind of stuff is putting our teachers in a position where they don’t know from day to day who’s going to show up in their classes,” Walker said. “They don’t know if somebody is truly remote that said, ‘I didn’t come but I was remote,’ but they never logged in to the class. So our efforts are to get some consistency.”

This is a developing story.