Gov. Roy Cooper and statewide education leaders expressed their support for resuming K-12 in-person instruction in a Feb. 2 press conference in a letter to school board members and superintendents. The letter comes as educators, parents, students and school system leaders grapple with how best to approach instruction nearly a year into the pandemic.
Cooper’s support stems from research suggesting that schools can reopen safely when COVID-19 mitigation strategies are in place and that children are less likely to have or spread COVID-19. However, research is still evolving, with some studies and epidemiologists stating that closing schools can help reduce transmission.
Since August, at least 90 of the state’s 115 school districts have safely provided in-person instruction, Cooper said in the letter.
“Protecting the health and safety of the people of this state, especially our children and our teachers, has been our goal,” Cooper said in a press release. “...Research done right here in North Carolina tells us that in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely with the right safety protocols in place.”
Cooper’s letter prompted the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education to discuss reopening on Feb. 4, instead of its scheduled discussion on Feb. 18. The board voted unanimously to move to hybrid, in-person instruction starting in April after relying on remote learning since last March.
North Carolina schools may be required to offer an in-person option for the remainder of the school year if NC Senate Bill 37 passes. The Senate will have its final vote on the bill Tuesday, determining if it moves on to the House.
Schools offering in-person instruction are encouraged to follow protocols outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, including access to masks and hand sanitizer, improving central air filtration, enforcing social distancing and making sure employees quarantine if ill.
But many remain divided over when and how schools should re-open. Jen Mangrum, the 2020 Democratic nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said she thinks it isn’t yet safe to resume in-person instruction.
“We cannot put school personnel back in school buildings until we can assure that they're safe,” Mangrum said. “There are studies that show closing schools is an effective way to decrease the spread of COVID, so I have a hard time understanding why we would put people back in classrooms.”