COVID-19, News

Republicans press Cooper to fully open public schools; Lt. Governor dismisses mask mandate

Senate President Phil Berger and Lt. Governor Dan Forest openly criticized Governor Roy Cooper’s approach to reopening schools during the pandemic Wednesday, saying schools must fully be opened for in-person instruction.

“Governor Cooper created this problem, and he needs to fix it,” said Sen. Berger. “He needs to direct school districts to give parents the option of full-time, five day a week in-person instruction now.”

Berger said the governor has relied on allies with the NC Association of Educators (NCAE) to have too much sway in the decision making process.

Gov. Cooper and state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced in July schools would open for in-person instruction under an updated Plan B that required face coverings for all K-12 students, fewer children in the classroom, measures to ensure social distancing, and other safety protocols.

Many local school districts used the flexibility they were granted to start the new school year under Plan C with remote-only  instruction.

Lt. Governor Dan Forest said parents should make the ultimate decision about whether their children stay home for online learning or return to the classroom with other students.

“These schools know how to open safely. They can follow the lead of schools all over the world and do that. They can make it safe for their administrators. They can make it safe for their teachers. They can make it safe for their students. Most importantly, they can let the parents decide,” said Forest.

The lieutenant governor also dismissed the guidance that masks or face coverings should be required as a measure of protection against the spread of COVID-19 for students, teachers and staff.

“I’m not gonna get into the mask debate here. There is evidence all over the world from studies that have been done for decades now that are contrary to that,” maintained Forest.

Catherine Truitt, the Republican candidate for NC School Superintendent, also voiced support for seeing students return to the classroom. Truitt said special needs students and those facing hunger require resources they simply cannot receive at home.

“There are too many students being left behind. Our state and most importantly our students, cannot afford for this to be a lost year of learning,” Truitt said.

Joining the Republicans in their push were several parents including Tara Deane, who said her special needs children have suffered as a result of being forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

“COVID isn’t killing my children right now, but they are dying inside from a lack of schedule and due to total isolation,” explained Deane. “I am begging you to put these vulnerable children at the forefront of the discussions and decision making.”

Michele Morrow, a parent and veteran nurse, downplayed concerns by teachers who may be anxious about returning to in-person instruction.

“If you have been a school teacher for years, you have the immune system of steel,” said Morrow.

Senator Berger said the legislature has given schools sufficient funds to open safely, and lawmakers can revisit additional funding needs in January.

To date, 11%  (20,338) of North Carolina’s COVID cases have involved individuals under the age of 18.

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