North Carolina NOW Legislative Update #7 – 15 March 2021
It’s a miracle! Legislative leaders and the Governor actually reached a compromise on Senate Bill 220, Open our Schools Act, and the bill has been signed into law. Reaching a deal has been a prolonged power struggle between the legislature and the Governor.
The deal grants the governor the power to close or modify operations in individual schools or school districts, but denies him the power to close schools statewide, even in a declared emergency. The legislature wanted to strip the governor of these powers entirely. Local administrators will have the power to respond rapidly to local emergencies and, if necessary, close down schools.
The governor originally wanted all schools to adhere to CDC standards for masking and social distancing, something most North Carolina schools simply cannot do. The compromise stipulates that the Department of Public Instruction will contract with the ABC Science Collaborative (a project of Duke University School of Medicine) to provide standards for school safety and to gather data from the schools to report monthly to the legislature, the governor, and the Department of Public Instruction.
All public schools will offer at least some in-person instruction; however, remote learning will continue to be an option. Teachers are rightfully concerned because though masks are required, social distancing is not. Educators are also concerned because the legislature has never funded an adequate public health infrastructure for our schools, including safe facilities and adequate school nurses.
Even though the deal has its shortcomings it does address the problem of returning students to school safely, and for the first time in four years shows that legislative leaders and the governor can work together to address critical problems facing North Carolina.
This week also saw two bills of interest introduced: (1) Senate Bill 190, Prohibit Weapons at Voting Place, and (2) Senate Bill 199, Freedom from Abuse, which would require public schools to provide students information on and resources for neglect and abuse, including sexual abuse.
See whole report at North Carolina NOW Legislative Update 7.15 March 2021