RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Many parents and some teachers were cheering Governor Roy Cooper's announcement this week recommending a return to the classroom for North Carolina public school students.
"I'm joined by our state education leaders to strongly urge that all schools provide in-person learning for their students," Cooper said at Tuesday COVID-19 briefing.
But, the North Carolina Association of Educators [NCAE], the state's largest educator advocacy group insists it's the wrong move -- that in-person learning should stay paused until teachers get the COVID vaccine.
"Today, we saw the highest daily death toll," said Kristin Beller, president of Wake NCAE. "It is perfectly reasonable that educators would want the extra protection of the vaccine before going into classrooms that have 18 to 20 other humans in them."
Cooper has been a reliable ally to NCAE. The union endorsed his run for governor. His decision brought dismay to the association.
"Educators were very disappointed, surprised," Beller said. "There was no promise of resources attached to the safe return."
Beller argues the state should be mandating social distancing in schools, paying districts to upgrade building ventilation systems and joining the 23 other states currently vaccinating teachers.
State health officials are pleading for patience as vaccine demands continue to outpace supply.
"For our frontline essential workers, you're next," NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Tuesday night in a virtual vaccine seminar sponsored by the state.
From Washington to Raleigh, public health experts have cited research detailing the low risk of COVID transmission in schools that follow CDC-recommended health and safety protocols.
"Research done right here in North Carolina tells us that in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely," Cooper said.
NCAE argues the research is flawed; failing to account for a lack of contact tracing of students who may exhibit symptoms from home and subsequently quarantine then return to school having never been counted as a positive case.
"It is very true that the study says that there is little evidence of secondary transmission in schools. But we also recognize that not everyone who is symptomatic is receiving tests," Beller said.
As Wake County Public School System prepares to return to in-person learning on Feb. 15, ABC11 also wondered whether the extended time in virtual learning was creating a need to make-up for the lost classroom time.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Instruction tells ABC11 that several ideas are under consideration and more details are expected in the coming weeks.