March 12, 2020 — a day that will live in infamy.
As Americans, the normal day-to-day activities of life came to a sudden stop. For students, this was the last time many of us experienced in-person classes.
Since then, millions of students have been attending classes virtually. Our rooms have transformed into our workspaces, Zoom has been our new classroom and meaningful connections with our peers have ceased to exist.
That may soon change in North Carolina public schools. With the introduction of Senate Bill 37, North Carolina legislators proposed that K-12 school districts offer an in-person learning option to all students. Parents would maintain the option of sending their children back to class or keeping them at home virtually. Lawmakers in support claim the bill is needed because students have been falling behind in academics since the shift to virtual classes.
Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed the bill, questioning the safety of in-person classes. Should a new COVID-19 variant appear, Cooper argues the bill will take the power out of state and local officials' hands.
Cooper brings up rational concerns. As the old saying goes, “if you’re going to do something, make sure you do it right the first time.” State and local officials still need to maintain the power to make decisions about the status of in-person instruction, should a future outbreak arise.
However, the bill comes with the right intentions. Students across the nation are struggling to keep up academically. In North Carolina, school districts report that 23 percent of their students are at risk of academic failure and are not successfully progressing toward grade level promotion.
Academic progress in the state is so far behind, a bill unanimously passed by the North Carolina General Assembly would offer an optional six-week summer school to make up some of the ground lost in remote learning.
When schools first closed down, the severity of COVID-19 was far less clear. Since then, not only have we learned the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing, but also the efficiency of items like open windows and HEPA filters.
More importantly, we have learned that children are at a significantly lower risk for the virus. Younger children are less likely to get and spread COVID-19, and most have mild symptoms if they do get it.
In 11 North Carolina counties that have already returned to school, the districts were able to conduct in-person instruction this past fall with minimal viral transmission. In a Pediatrics report that studied those 11 districts, only 32 cases transmitted within the classroom were reported from a sample size of over 90,000 students and teachers — a rate of 0.0004 percent.
This all adds up to a clear conclusion: schools are safe to return to. In a world where our politicians can jet off to Cancún and we can go to our favorite restaurants, keeping schools closed is irresponsible.
One strong opposer to the bill has been the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's leading teacher lobbying group. However, just as our grocery store and restaurant employees have been essential to maintaining a business, it’s time for teachers to share that same responsibility. Some could argue their importance is even more vital, raising the next generation of leaders.
As columnist Jonah Goldberg put it, “Imagine how many people would starve if grocery workers had the same clout — and attitude — as teachers unions.”
Meanwhile, as teachers wait for local and state officials to determine when they will return, vaccination processes are underway. Beginning on Feb. 24, teachers have been prioritized in the vaccine distribution. Distribution has seen considerable progress so far, with almost 50,000 K-12 and child care employees receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.
Orange County students will return to school in two waves, starting Monday and continuing into next week. The public's eyes will be on the teachers and students, monitoring to see if a successful return will be accomplished.
Students need to return to the classrooms, and with many parents and lawmakers wanting students back, now is the right time to open our schools.
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