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Cooper criticizes school reopening bill; Catawba County lawmakers voted in favor

Cooper criticizes school reopening bill; Catawba County lawmakers voted in favor

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Gov. Roy Cooper criticized a bill that would require in-person learning for students throughout the state. In this file photo, Cynthia Liles and John Cushing with Hickory Public Schools are seen cleaning classrooms in July. 

Gov. Roy Cooper expressed opposition to a school reopening bill that passed the N.C. General Assembly Wednesday. The bill was supported by Catawba County’s three lawmakers.

Sen. Dean Proctor and Reps. Mitchell Setzer and Jay Adams all voted in favor of a revised version of Senate Bill 37.

The final version is like the previous ones in most respects and is aimed at returning students to the classroom. The bill leaves the door open for parents to request remote learning as an option but discourages schools from offering that as the only option.

Schools would have to provide in-person instruction under the less restrictive Plan A for special needs students unless those students are otherwise not allowed to take part in in-person learning.

All other students would be under Plans A, B or some combination of the two.

Parents and guardians would be able to request remote learning for their children.

School districts would also be able to implement remote learning in circumstances where COVID-19 exposures or cases cause a staffing crunch or force students to quarantine.

All three school districts in Catawba County currently offer in-person instruction in one form or another.

Districts would also have to make accommodations such as increased social distancing or possible remote work for teachers or staff who are especially vulnerable to bad outcomes if they were to get the virus.

Such accommodations would also be available to school employees who are caring for minors who are high-risk.

Cooper signaled his opposition to the bill at his Thursday briefing.

He said he would support a reopening bill that would require districts to follow Department of Health and Human Services school guidelines while also preserving emergency authority for state and local officials.

“The bill they just passed fails on both of these fronts,” Cooper said. “I’ll continue to discuss potential new legislation with General Assembly leaders before taking action on the bill that I now have on my desk.”

Cooper has encouraged districts to safely reopen. He said Thursday that 91 of the state’s 115 school districts have now implemented some form of in-person education.

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

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