Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed bipartisan legislation to reopen N.C. public schools statewide. The governor announced his decision at 4:54 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26.

That’s nine days after state lawmakers presented him the reopening bill, Senate Bill 37, and one day before he faced a constitutional deadline to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law with no action.

Reaction came quickly from state lawmakers who supported the measure.

“At the same time the governor boasts of teacher vaccinations after giving them a higher priority than cancer patients, he vetoes this school reopening bill because it offers school districts the flexibility to operate under the plan that best suits their on-the-ground needs,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, a sponsor of S.B. 37. Ballard co-chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“With teacher vaccinations in full swing, there is no legitimate excuse for Gov. Cooper and the far-left NCAE to oppose the broad reopening flexibility this bill grants to school districts,” said Ballard, referring to the N.C. Association of Educators. That group is state affiliate of the National Education Association teachers union.

“The far-left NCAE owns the Governor’s mansion,” Ballard added. “Thankfully, Senate Bill 37 passed with enough bipartisan support to override Gov. Cooper’s veto, and we expect to bring it up for an override vote.”

A news release from state Senate Republicans offers additional context. “[T]he far-left [NCAE] opposes the bill, mirroring a nationwide trend: Health and education experts say schools should be reopened immediately, but teachers’ unions are flexing their political muscle to withhold or minimize in-person education.”

The state Republican Party contrasted Cooper’s action on school reopening with another action announced this week related to COVID-19 and prisons.

“Surprisingly, Cooper agreed to a settlement with far-left activists to release thousands of convicted criminals,” according to a news release from the NCGOP. “It is appalling that while releasing thousands of criminals from prison, Cooper is locking North Carolina kids in failing virtual schools.”

“Gov. Cooper vetoed S.B. [37] to keep as many kids as possible locked in failing virtual schools at the same time he’s actively settling with left-wing activists to let thousands of convicted criminals out of prison,” said Tim Wigginton, NCGOP communications director. “Cooper is letting criminals out of jail and locking our kids in failing virtual schools.”

Cooper offered a message along with his veto.

“Students learn best in the classroom, and I have strongly urged all schools to open safely to in-person instruction and the vast majority of local school systems have done just that,” the governor said.

“However, Senate Bill 37 falls short in two critical areas. First, it allows students in middle and high school to go back into the classroom in violation of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC health guidelines. Second, it hinders local and state officials from protecting students and teachers during an emergency.

“As I have informed the Legislature, I would sign the bill if these two problems are fixed.

“As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic. Therefore, I veto the bill.”

The N.C. House approved the final version of S.B. 37 with a 77-42 vote on Feb. 17. Eight Democrats joined every Republican in backing the measure. That’s more than the three-fifths majority (72 votes) needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

The same is true in the Senate, where three Democrats joined every Republican to approve the measure, 31-16. Senators needed 30 votes in a full chamber to override a veto.

Cooper’s first veto of 2021 extends his state record to 54. Since the N.C. governor gained veto power in 1997, no other chief executive in the state has vetoed more than 20 bills.

While lawmakers voted to override 23 of 28 Cooper vetoes during the governor’s first two years in office in 2017-18, all 25 vetoes he issued in 2019-20 withstood legislative challenge. The difference? Republicans held legislative supermajorities in 2017-18. They lost supermajorities in the 2018 election. They have needed Democratic support since 2019 to overcome the governor’s objections.

Lawmakers could consider overriding the veto as early as Monday. There is no deadline for a veto override vote.