CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper and other state leaders announced a new bill Wednesday that will reopen all public schools in North Carolina for in-person learning.
Under the legislation, all elementary schools must operate under Plan A, which is full in-person learning. Local districts will have the option for Plan A or Plan B/hybrid learning for middle and high school students. Cooper said the bill would take effect 21 days after he signs it, estimating sometime around April 1.
"Districts moving to Plan A for middle and high schools are required to notify DHHS prior to moving to Plan A," Senate Leader Phil Berger said. "They are required to describe their plan for moving to Plan A. DHHS will not have the authority to veto a district's plan to move to Plan A; however, the governor will be given the authority to order a closure, restriction or reduction of operations within schools, but must only do so on a district-by-district basis."
Following public disagreements with Republicans on how schools should reopen, Cooper said, "Coming together after acrimony isn't easy, but it's the right thing to do for North Carolina."
"The good news is I think we all want the same thing. To open our schools for in-person instruction for all students and to do it safely with important emergency protections," Cooper said. "I believe, and our public health leaders agree, that we can do that safely with precautions like face masks and other safe guards found in the public schools tool kit."
On March 4, the State Board of Education ruled that all districts must offer in-person learning, and in the process, approved new COVID-19 safety guidelines, including mandatory face masks and social distancing for students from sixth grade through high school.
Last month, Cooper "strongly urged" all public schools to offer in-person learning as soon as possible. He then vetoed Senate Bill 37, which would force all public schools to offer in-person learning. An attempt to override Cooper's veto failed in the Senate.
“The question on SB 37 that I vetoed is not whether our children should be in the classroom in person. They absolutely should. The question is whether we do it safely,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he asked state lawmakers to compromise on two issues: social distancing and requiring schools to follow state and local health guidelines for COVID-19. The governor said he would sign the legislation if those two issues were addressed.
Multiple districts in the Charlotte region have recently announced reopening plans, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which resumed in-person learning last month. On Tuesday, the CMS board voted to increase in-person learning for all K-12 students, opting to send elementary students to school for four days of in-person learning each week.
WCNC Charlotte has reached out to CMS for more information concerning how this legislation could impact its plans moving forward.