Editorial raises raft of good questions about bill to mandate school reopening

In case you missed it, be sure to check out yesterday’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com: “Bill requiring in-person learning relies on luck not reality. Needs more work.”

The impetus for the editorial, of course, is Senate Bill 37 — the legislation recently sent by the General Assembly to Governor Cooper that would mandate all school districts to return to in-person instruction. As the editorial notes, the bill is but the latest in a long line of maddening actions by Republican legislative leaders that: a) ignores the obvious imperative of negotiating controversial legislation with the executive branch, and b) imposes a mandate from Raleigh that hypocritically ignores the idea of local control that the GOP long championed before assuming power a decade ago.

Perhaps more importantly, the editorial notes, the bill raises several important practical questions, including:

  • Why are public charter schools excluded?
  • How are schools going to provide the additional space needed to accommodate a safe in-classroom environment?
  • How are schools going to pay for substitute teachers to replace those who cannot be in the classroom because of COVID-19 exposure or other related matters?
  • What needs to be done to meet necessary space requirements for in-school meals? Already, we’re learning that some schools are considering rules that could have kids sitting on the floor to eat meals.
  • Can all of this be assured when schools would be required to implement the mandate – around March 15?
  • Why isn’t there a requirement, and necessary funding, to make sure there is a nurse or other health professional, on-site at each open school?

It also specifies several specific actions that need to be in place before reopening is mandated:

  • There must be required frequent and regular COVID-19 screening of students and school personnel to quickly identify coronavirus outbreaks and deal with them before they become a crisis.
  • Teachers and other appropriate school personnel, including bus drivers, required to work in classroom settings must be vaccinated as soon as possible.
  • Provisions must be added for appropriate facilities for safely serving in-school meals. Mandating students sit on the floor, on the ground, or outdoors in cold or inclement weather is not acceptable.
  • All health and safety precautions must be in place for necessary social distancing and personal protective equipment needs to be available in the classroom and in all other school-related activities.

The bottom line: Just about everyone — Gov. Roy Cooper included — wants kids and educators to get back to school safely. But as the editorial rightfully observes, merely commanding it — without doing the hard, detailed work that’s necessary to facilitate it — is a lousy idea.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

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