Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes Senate bill that requires school districts to provide in-person instruction

Gov. Roy Cooper

As expected, Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday vetoed Senate Bill 37, which requires school districts to provide in-person instruction.

In a statement, Cooper repeated his complaint that SB 37 allows middle school and high school students back into classrooms in violation of state and federal safety guidelines and doesn’t give districts the flexibility to change course during an emergency.

“As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic,” Cooper said. “Therefore, I veto the bill.”

The leadership of the Republican-led General Assembly said it will call for a vote to override the veto.

“Thankfully, Senate Bill 37 passed with enough bipartisan support to override Gov. Cooper’s veto, and we expect to bring it up for an override vote,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican, bill sponsor and co-chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Ballard accused Cooper of bending to the NC Association of Educators (NCAE), which has similar concerns as the governor about SB 37.

“The far-left NCAE owns the Governor’s mansion,” Ballard chided.

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said Cooper ignored  ignored “desperate parents, policy experts, and students who are suffering from his refusal to let them return to the classroom.”
“The legislature has worked hard to find common ground with the Governor, but we have a constitutional duty to provide education access to our students and will pursue a veto override on behalf of North Carolina families,” Moore said in a statement. 

An override of Cooper’s veto would require some Democrats to cross the aisle to vote with Republicans. Cooper had until Feb. 27 to act on the bill.

SB 37 has been one of the more controversial bills introduced in the long session with Republicans unanimously backing it as they push to more fully reopen businesses and schools. Backers of the bill say students are suffering irreparable academic and social and emotional damage due to remote learning.

Many Democrats and educators counter that reopening schools for in-person instruction is dangerous until teachers are vaccinated and the coronavirus is under control.

Bill opponents, however, agree with those who support SB 37 that students are better off in classrooms.

“Students learn best in the classroom and I have strongly urged all schools to open safely to in-person instruction and the vast majority of local school systems have done just that,” Cooper said.

Earlier this month, Cooper said that 91 of 115 school districts have returned to in-person learning. Ninety-five percent of school districts representing 96% of students will be in-person learning by mid-March, he said.

The NCAE applauded Cooper’s veto.

“The best action all legislators can take right now is to encourage their communities to comply with the safety protocols and to encourage the vaccination of all school employees,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.

Cooper’s veto comes just days after North Carolina’s teachers begin to receive vaccinations against COVID-19.

“North Carolina public school educators are eager to get back into their classrooms as soon as it is safe to do so, but SB 37 is the opposite of a safe return to in-person instruction,” Walker Kelly said.

The veto came minutes before Cooper’s latest executive order took effect at 5 p.m., easing some pandemic-related restrictions to allow bars, night clubs, movie theaters and sports arenas to increase their capacity.,
Cooper cited lower infection rates and hospitalizations in easing the restrictions but urged state residents to continue to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

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