The standoff over reopening in-person instruction in public schools may be over.
In a press conference in Raleigh this morning, Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger announced a compromise that will allow students statewide to return to the classroom.
“Getting students safely back into classrooms must be our shared priority,” Cooper said in a statement that was later Tweeted. “Today I announced an agreement with education, health and legislative leaders that will return schools to in person learning while retaining our ability to protect students and educators in an emergency.”
Berger led the fight in both state houses for a bill that required schools to reopen, citing falling test scores, more students failing and worsening mental health problems for students. The bill was vetoed by Cooper, and barely missed being overridden by the General Assembly.
Republicans have argued that COVID-19 outbreaks vary from county to county, and the one-size-fits-all policy of the state COVID-19 task force is unfair to students who are in low-outbreak areas.
Under the compromise plan, all elementary schools will be under Plan A, which allows for reopening with COVID-19 protocols. Middle and high schools would fall under Plans B and C.
Systems that decide to reopen under Plan A must first consult with the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). State health officials would not have the authority to stop reopening plans – only the governor could do so, and only on a district by district basis. Individual systems would still have the authority to shut down if COVID-19 problems persist.
All schools systems must still offer the option of 100 percent virtual instruction.
The agreement also provides for additional teacher workdays before school systems return to in-person learning, which may occur 21 days after the plan becomes law, or at the discretion of individual systems. The Department of Public Instruction will also receive $500,000 for tracking and collecting COVID data within the schools.
Cooper said he will sign the new plan into law as soon as it passes through both houses of the General Assembly.