NC Senate GOP wants in-person class option to be required in proposed bill

Senator Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) is the bill sponsor that would require all public schools to reopen in-person amid the pandemic.
Parents would still have the option to stick to virtual-only but the potential bill would reopen public schools in-person in the state.
Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 8:14 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - North Carolina Senate Republicans are working on a bill that would require all public schools to offer an in-person class option or some kind of similar instruction to students with “ABC Science Collaborative CDC recommendations on COVID protocol likely to be included.”

Parents would still have the option to stick to virtual-only but the potential bill would reopen public schools in-person in the state.

Many counties in eastern North Carolina have done a hybrid-model where some students attend in-person or online, but the proposal focuses on concerns that students are falling behind and need the face-to-face interaction that state lawmakers say would help them both academically and mentally.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), who is the Senate Education Committee co-chair, is the bill sponsor and said a proposal will be unveiled in the coming weeks, according to the press release on Thursday, which included findings from the CDC and ABC Science Collaborative on community transmission of the coronavirus this month.

Although it is a Senate bill, House lawmakers who heard about the drafting of legislation said bringing students back in classrooms could help narrow the gap that’s widening between students who are on track and those who are falling behind.

Rep. Chris Humphrey (R-Lenoir, Pitt) said there are rural North Carolinians who don’t have reliable broadband services.

“Our children are our future and we’re already behind the world in certain areas of learning,” Humphrey said. “So, the further we push them back and keep them from getting in the classroom, it’s going to be detrimental.”

In Onslow County, which Rep. Phil Shepard (R-Onslow) says is one of the largest school districts in the state, this issue has been evident.

“We’ve got several areas, even in Onslow County and a lot of counties that don’t have internet connection,” Shepard said. “And there is a disadvantage, even before COVID and before we did all the virtual learning. That is very difficult for them [students] and makes it harder for those students even more so.”

The Senate bill has yet to be finalized and presented but Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Jacksonville), who is serving his first-term as senator and is on the Senate Education Committee, said those who are less fortunate are getting further behind.

“It’s a concern for all leadership that we figure out how we can get our kids safely back in the classroom because we’re finding that the gap is continuing to widen,” Lazzara said. “The enrollments are decreasing because people are switching schools from a public to a private format and that’s further widening the gap between the has and has-nots. We know that there’s plenty of scientific data that’s been collected that supports children being back in school so it’s just something that we need to continue to look at and see if we can find proper solutions for.”

While a draft is in the works, the office of Gov. Roy Cooper released the following statement on Friday:

With days left before the bill is presented to the Senate, both Humphrey and Shepard agreed students need to be back in classrooms this year.

“My prayer is that we will get back to face to face classroom teaching and get back to normal as much as possible sooner that we can do that, I think the sooner that our students will move forward,” Shepard said.

“We just got to find a balance and I’m anxious to see what the final piece of legislation will look like from the Senate,” Humphrey said.

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