News: Quick Takes

Senate leader, governor say they’re talking about agreement to reopen schools

Senate leader Phil Berger during a news conference Tuesday. (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)
Senate leader Phil Berger during a news conference Tuesday. (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, says lawmakers are negotiating with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, on a plan to reopen schools.

Berger, in a news conference Tuesday, March 9, with Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, offered no specifics about the plan. Berger had scheduled a news conference Monday, but he canceled it because of the ongoing negotiations with the governor.

An announcement on an agreement, he said at the time, could come later that same day. Cooper, in a news conference later Tuesday to update people on COVID-19 and vaccinations, said he’s continuing to work with lawmakers on a plan to reopen schools.

“We have been talking,” Cooper said.

“We all share the goal of getting our children back into the classroom.”

He said it must be done safely, however, and he had not seen legislation, only saying something may come “soon.”

A compromise on school reopening would render moot Senate Bill 37, which would direct all public school districts to reopen for in-classroom instruction. Parents would still have the option of remote learning under the bill. Cooper vetoed the measure Feb. 26. An attempt to override Cooper’s veto fell short by one vote.

Berger said he and Cooper have been talking on the phone about the issue for a week, and that House Speaker Tim Moore, R- Cleveland, is aware of the discussions. 

“We seem to be very close to an agreement in principle,” Berger said Tuesday. “If we have an agreement it will be just that, an agreement.”

S.B. 37, he said, led to some districts making progress in reopening schools for in-person instruction, which is the goal. 

“It’s important to remember this bill, from the beginning, has been a compromise bill,” Ballard said. “We’re definitely moving in the right direction, and I’m optimistic we’ll be able to reach an agreement.”

Republican lawmakers are also seeking to leapfrog Cooper’s veto by introducing a series of local bills that aren’t subject to a gubernatorial veto. The first of those, House Bill 90  — approved by the N.C. House K-12 Education Committee on Tuesday — would allow districts to fully reopen under “Plan A” in Carteret, Haywood, Randolph, and Yancey County schools. A local bill can affect up to 14 counties.

On Thursday, March 4, the N.C. State Board of Education passed a resolution calling on all public school districts to give parents the option of in-person learning by the end of March. The resolution also included the endorsement of new guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services that allows K-5 schools to operate under “Plan A” — requiring minimal social distancing — while middle and high schools operate under “Plan B” — requiring six feet of social distancing.