With evidence mounting that schools can operate safely amid COVID-19, the General Assembly will soon consider a bill that would require North Carolina classrooms to be open for in-person instruction.

The legislation, expected to be filed in the next few days, would mandate that every school district offer in-person learning in some capacity, while also giving parents the option of all-virtual instruction. Currently, school districts have a hodgepodge of policies, while many of the state’s largest districts are completely remote.

“Among all the COVID tragedies, the most preventable is the lost learning potential that, for some kids, will last a lifetime,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, says in a statement. “After hearing from so many parents and teachers, we have to act immediately to return children to the classroom to stop further damage.”

Doctors with Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill have studied schools that reopened last fall and concluded that “schools can reopen safely.” They found “extremely limited” transmission of the coronavirus in school buildings, and no examples of child to teacher transmission.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has also presented data showing that one in five children aren’t attending school regularly, and a large percentage are at risk of failing. 

Despite this, Gov. Roy Cooper issued executive orders preventing school districts from allowing middle or high school students from attending school in-person, and restricting the number of elementary school students who can enter the classroom.

He then left it to school districts to decide their goals. Many have careened between all remote learning and hybrid plans that bring kids into school just a few days per week.

Governors of other states have taken a stronger approach to reopening schools, setting the expectation that schools will be open. 

“To those of you who are throwing in the towel on our kids and going virtual, I think it’s a shame,” Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island said last month. She is a Democrat, like Cooper. “You’re letting the children down, and I don’t see any reason for it, so i’d ask you to rethink it.”

The bill to reopen schools will set up another showdown between Republicans in the General Assembly and Cooper. Last year, the legislature passed a series of bills that would allow gyms and bars to reopen. Cooper vetoed them all.

But Republicans gained four seats in the House after November’s election, potentially making a veto override easier. The GOP lost one seat in the Senate.

“Governor Cooper has not acted decisively, and the public education bureaucracy has rejected its most fundamental task — educating our children,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement. “It’s time for this travesty to end.”

Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.