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Catawba County lawmakers support school reopening bill

Catawba County lawmakers support school reopening bill

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The three state lawmakers from Catawba County have shown their support for a bill pending in the N.C. General Assembly that would require schools to offer in-person learning options to students.

Sen. Dean Proctor, who represents Catawba and Alexander counties, is a sponsor of Senate Bill 37.

Proctor said one of his big reasons for supporting the bill is concern that children are hindered by remote education.

“They’re losing a lot of education,” Proctor said. “I don’t think they can catch up with it.”

He added he has received numerous emails from parents locally and around the state who say remote learning is not working for their children.

Reps. Mitchell Setzer and Jay Adams also voted for a version of the bill that passed the House on Thursday.

The bill is still working its way through the legislative process and more changes to the bill are possible.

What Senate Bill 37 does

The bill would require that all school boards throughout the state allow for in-person instruction under the existing Plans A or B for all grade levels.

Schools would have to offer Plan A — the less restrictive of the two in-person plans — to special needs students unless that plan is otherwise prohibited.

Other students would be offered Plans A, B or some combination of the two.

The bill does include some provisions for remote learning.

Parents would be able to request it and districts could pivot to remote learning if it “is necessary due to COVID-19 exposures that result in insufficient school personnel or required student quarantines.”

School boards would also be able to “adjust student assignments as necessary for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year to comply with in-person instruction plan requirements and ensure efficient use of school resources in order to provide both in-person instruction and offer remote instruction alternatives to families.”

The House version of the bill, which passed Thursday, stipulates that schools must also “provide reasonable accommodations which may include a remote work option” for teachers who themselves have a condition that would make them especially vulnerable if they were to catch the virus or if they are caring for a child who has such a condition.

Members from the House and Senate are working together to resolve differences on the bill, with more action on the bill expected next week.

Currently, all three school systems in Catawba County are operating with a mix of in-person and remote learning.

Catawba County Schools Superintendent Matt Stover said he spoke with Proctor and believes the bill would not change the way the school system is operating this school year.

Leslie Barnette, chair of the Catawba County Schools Board of Education, said the system is ready to follow any new requirements from the state but did not comment on the bill beyond that.

Setzer said both parents and teachers are concerned with getting students back in safely and that doing so requires a balance.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through personally with this, the teachers and the kids and everything being so disrupted,” Setzer said.

Setzer was also hopeful about teachers being able to get vaccines later this month.

Adams said he sees the bill in part as a way for the legislature to assert its power in making policy around COVID-19 regulations.

“This is our first opportunity to correct something we think has been badly handled,” Adams said.

He said his preference is to simply open schools and that his support for the bill with its provisions for remote learning was a compromise position for him.

Adams added that remote learning can be a useful educational tool but that the rush to implement it during the pandemic has not been effective.

Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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