Bill filed to reopen schools; NCAE wants teachers vaccinated first

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Senate bill was filed Monday in the North Carolina General Assembly that would put school districts on a path to reopen schools.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest educator advocacy group, said far too many students and staff would be put at risk if lawmakers just went ahead and signed off on reopening schools without putting one mandate in place.

"Getting them (educators) vaccinated is one of the most critical steps in restarting in-person instruction statewide. Twenty-three other states are vaccinating educators right now and North Carolina should be one of them," said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly. "Without this assistance from the General Assembly, our children will continue to struggle. Educators will continue to get sick and yes more of them will die."

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Senate Bill 37, "In-Person Learning Choice for Families," requires schools to provide access to in-person learning under Plan A (minimal social distancing) for students with exceptional needs. It also requires schools to provide in-person learning options for all K-12 students under either Plan A or Plan B (moderate social distancing). Families would still have the choice of remote learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

"Our students need to be in school, there's no question about that. We can get them back into classrooms safely. Students are suffering and parents are watching their children fall behind in their learning, worrying that they'll never catch up," Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said. "This legislation balances students' needs, public health guidelines, and parental choice. In order to stymie the ramifications of learning loss, we need to give these families an option for in-class instruction."

The calls to reopen North Carolina schools are growing.

There was a demonstration Saturday afternoon at the Governor's Mansion.

Gov. Roy Cooper has said it is up to districts to make the decision whether it's safe for students and educators to head back into the classroom.

Some Wake County parents are upset that the Wake County School District still has children learning from home.

"You've had 300 days, over 300 days, to figure this out. Why can we not open up our schools?" said parent Tammy Peatross.

Her son is in ninth-grade and has never stepped foot inside his high school.

Peatross is concerned about how little her son might be absorbing through virtual learning. She said he does much better sitting in a classroom.

"Our students are falling behind," Peatross said.

She wants parents to have a choice of how their children are learning.

"We're not trying to take away virtual from anyone," she said.

The NCAE said it wants to see how districts are coping with COVID-19. The advocacy group announced plans for a statewide tour to all 100 counties from now through June.

Senate Bill 37 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

DECISION DAY LOOMS AT WCPSS

Wake County School Board Chair Keith Sutton spoke virtually with ABC11, Monday night, as the state's largest school system debates whether to return to in-person learning this month. WCPSS suspended in-person instruction until at least the middle of the month.

"We want to get kids back in school. That is the desire of this board," Sutton said.

Sutton insisted he will base his vote on reopening schools on state and local COVID-19 metrics that will be presented by district staff at a Tuesday presentation and the availability of teachers and building personnel, many of whom have not been vaccinated, and for safety reasons, may be unwilling to return.

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"We want to get kids back in school. That is the desire of this board," Sutton said.



"I've said it a couple times, if it looks like we're kicking the can down the road a little bit, in some respects, we are," Sutton said. "Because we're trying to figure out how we can get students back into the buildings for some face-to-face instruction this academic school year.

"But we want to do so when it's safe and when it's operationally sound and effective to do so."

The Wake school board meets Tuesday to discuss reopening. A vote is scheduled for February 9.

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