'This is about our children': Parents plan rally at governor's mansion asking for NC schools to reopen

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Parents are organizing a rally outside the Governor's mansion in Raleigh Saturday.

Their message? Open up schools.

"This is about our children," said Wake County mother Kelly Mann, one of the organizers. "This is about how this is affecting our children.

Mann and a couple of other mothers started the Facebook group, "Members of Wake County Families and Teachers to Safely Reopen Schools," which has nearly 6,000 members.

Meanwhile, state Republican lawmakers are working on legislation requiring all districts to operate in-person in some capacity. Parents would still have the option of all virtual learning.

"I am there to support what they're pushing forward and I could not be more excited that this is something that's finally being done, finally," Mann said. "It really should have been done a long time ago but I'm very pleased by this."

A formal proposal for the legislation is expected in the coming days and comes after recent data suggested transmission of COVID-19 in schools appeared low as long as students wore masks and stuck to a rotation.

Governor Roy Cooper's office tells ABC11 that the Governor wants students back in the classroom as quickly and safely as possible and that the decision is currently up to local districts.

The Wake County Public School System board will decide whether all-remote learning will continue in the state's largest school district. Chair Keith Sutton tells ABC11 they'll discuss that topic in a special meeting February 9th. He also said they are in conversations with the county and state to see how they can prioritize teachers for the vaccine.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said in a news release about the legislation, "Gov. Cooper has not acted decisively and the public education bureaucracy has rejected its most fundamental task: educating our children. It's time for this travesty to end."

"It's going to have to come from the state level, it absolutely is, whether that's Governor Cooper, whether that's Senator Berger, whether that's Senator Ballard, it's going to have to come from the state," Mann said.

A petition online has the signature of nearly 18,000 people and asks the North Carolina General Assembly take steps to support the safe conditions for children, families, and school staff in schools.

A letter from the North Carolina Association of Educators to the North Carolina General Assembly posted online says:

"In order to keep North Carolina's children, families, and school staff safe, we assert the right to determine the conditions of the essential services provided by our public schools in our communities."

The letter asks the General Assembly to maintain at least 2019-2020 levels of funding and staffing for the 2020-21 school year, fully fund the requirements for reopening of schools determined by the State Department of Health and Human Services as specified in the Strong Schools Public Health Toolkit, and direct appropriate decision-making bodies to meet with public school employees, convened by the North Carolina Association of Educators, to co-create conditions of re-entry respecting the concerns of students, families, and staff.

Tamika Walker Kelly, President of the NCAE, also gave a statement:

"We, as NCAE, have always advocated for the return to in-person instruction when it was safe to do so, and in some places in North Carolina that is possible. However, in many schools, it is physically impossible to adhere to the necessary social distancing, masking, and hygiene requirements that will keep educators and students safe. We will wait to see the details of any proposed legislation, but we think the decision to return to in-person instruction should be left to local boards of education who can best assess the constantly evolving situation on the ground. If Sen. Berger really wants to go back to in-person instruction as quickly as possible, we urge him to work on vaccine supply and distribution to educators rather than attempting to usurp the local control of schools in our communities."
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