Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday, July 1, was vague in explaining why he delayed an announcement about how and when schools will start classes.
All 115 N.C. school districts were asked to create three reopening plans, ranging from most to least restrictive. Wednesday was the deadline for Cooper to announce which plan all schools would follow.
Cooper said in a news conference that he’s taking another couple of weeks.
Schools, parents, and teachers are waiting.
“We are about six weeks away from the traditional start of the school year, and instead of bringing clarity to the reopening process Gov. Cooper punted,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said. “Delaying reopening plans much longer does not provide schools and families adequate time to prepare and adapt.”
The governor attributed the delay to new information and the need for more “buy-in” from teachers and school officials. He wouldn’t share specifics.
“Perhaps the Cooper administration believed that a consensus would emerge by July 1, one that satisfied educators, parents, students, and the general public,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
“It didn’t, and now North Carolinians know less about the plans to open public schools in the fall than they did just 48 hours ago,” Stoops said.
A regional approach is a better way to open schools, said Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University and the Republican candidate for state superintendent.
“I’m glad that the governor didn’t issue a mandate regarding the reopening of schools that fails to recognize the diversity of our students, communities, and schools,” Truitt said in an email to Carolina Journal. “But he needs to go one step further and let our schools know ASAP that it will be up to district leaders to decide how schools reopen.
“Parents, teachers, and school administrators need clarity so they can plan accordingly.”
Some, including Senate Republicans, are urging Cooper to follow new American Academy of Pediatrics guidance on reopening schools.
Any school reopening plan should start with having students physically present in schools, the AAP wrote.
“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the academy wrote.
Cooper, along with Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized the need for in-person learning.
“We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure we get this right. My No. 1 opening priority is classroom doors,” Cooper said.
The state health department’s guidance on reopening schools is consistent with the AAP’s guidance, Cohen said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running against Cooper in November, wants the governor to fully reopen schools in the fall. The lieutenant governor was the lone “no” vote when the State Board of Education voted to approve the three-plan approach.
“The science and data available now do not support any decision other than reopening our schools completely,” Forest said on Twitter.
Forest, who on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the governor alleging misuse of emergency powers, slammed Cooper for delaying the decision on reopening schools.
The governor’s delay will only cause more confusion and anxiety for families and students during an already stressful time, Forest said.
Others defended Cooper.
“It is far more important to get this decision right than to get it done quickly,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, in a news release.
The governor is doing all he can to bring as many students back safely to school and to take care of all teachers and staff, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis told CJ.
Meanwhile, North Carolinians are divided on what school should look like in the fall, an Elon University poll found.
While 38% of respondents said students should return part time to school in the fall, 34% said they should return for full-time instruction. Nearly 30% said students should stick with only remote learning.
Elon Poll surveyed 1,410 North Carolinians from June 24-25. The credibility interval is plus or minus 2.74%.
“That all three broad approaches for reopening K-12 schools have similar levels of support is a testament to the uncertainty, complexity and difficulty of the decision,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll.