This story has been updated
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 220 requiring school districts to offer in-person instruction to K-12 students.
SB 220 (The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021) was introduced by Republican and Democratic lawmakers Wednesday as a compromise to what had become a contentious, partisan disagreement over when and how to reopen schools for in-person instruction.
“Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies,” Cooper said in a statement late Thursday.
The law requires districts to provide in-person instruction for students in grades K-5 under the state’s Plan A, requiring minimal social distancing.
Students in grades 6-12 would attend school either under Plan A, Plan B requiring six feet of social distancing or both.
Plan A must also be offered to students who have an Individualized Education Program or a 504 plan, which covers any condition that limits students from participating in daily activities.
Sen. Deanna Ballard, (R-Watauga), sponsored the bill.
The compromise to reopen schools for in-person instruction comes nearly a year after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered them closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many students have struggled in remote learning and parents have pushed lawmakers to reopen schools for in-person learning.
This week, William Chadwick, a senior at East Carteret High School, told lawmakers that his mental health and physical health have been tested while he’s been in remote learning.
Academically, Chadwick said it’s difficult to find a rhythm. He thinks being in school five days a week would help all students.
“I’ve got a balanced home life, so I’m able to have that support at home, but think about the kids who don’t have that and are still struggling and not making the grades,” Chadwick said.
The NC Association of Educators (NCAE) criticized the legislation Wednesday.
“This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with CDC guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.
Last month, Cooper strongly urged school districts to move to in-person instruction.
Cooper vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would require school districts to provide families a full-time, in-person option. The governor argued that Senate Bill 37 didn’t follow state and federal guidance around social distancing. He also complained that it stripped districts of flexibility to change course if there are spikes in COVID-19 infections.
Republicans’ attempt to override Cooper’s veto was narrowly defeated.