Cooper calls for in-person learning as North Carolina lawmakers consider legislation to require it

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On the same day legislation requiring North Carolina schools to resume full in-person learning started advancing in the state Senate, Gov. Roy Cooper said all K-12 schools in the state should allow in-person instruction.

Cooper announced Tuesday updated guidance on the state’s school reopening plan to allow students in fifth through 12th grade to attend in-person classes under the state’s Plan B, with smaller classes to allow for more social distancing. K-5 schools can have full classes, and students who want to stay home can continue remote learning conducted by teachers who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications.

“This pandemic has tested us in different ways, but our educators and school staff have never stopped showing up for our students,” Cooper said. “Our teachers have worked to engage our students, whether remotely or in-person. Our custodial staff has worked to keep schools clean and safe.”

Cooper ordered all K-12 schools to convert to remote learning in March, during the onset of the pandemic. After scientific data pointed to lower risks in younger children, Cooper called for full attendance in K-5 public and charter schools on Oct. 5. Cooper said at least 90 of the state’s 115 school districts are providing in-person instruction for some or all of their students.

The governor cited new research that shows schools have kept their COVID-19 numbers down despite the rising numbers in their surrounding communities.

“Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services secretary. “Our department will continue to serve our school communities, offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.”

Before Cooper’s announcement, a Senate committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill requiring schools to resume full in-person learning. Under the measure, K-12 students with special needs would resume full in-person learning (Plan A), and other classrooms would operate under either Plan A or B.

The proposal, Senate Bill 37, received a favorable vote from the Senate’s Education/Higher Education Committee and was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

“Enough is enough, and it’s past time. We all know the continued learning loss, the lack of routine and limited social interaction is only feeding a generation of anxious, depressed and helpless kids,” Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said. “One of our local superintendents recently shared with me that the suicide rate among teens is higher than the COVID rate of deaths right now, and they’re counting. That’s just unacceptable and heartbreaking, but we can change course.”

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