Legislators, parents call on Gov. Cooper to reopen schools for in-person learning

Posted September 16, 2020 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2020 1:01 p.m. EDT

— Parents and Republican state officials said Wednesday that online learning is failing North Carolina students. Right now, school districts have the option for a hybrid model of some in-person and some remote instruction or for all remote learning.

GOP lawmakers said parents should be given the option to send their children back to school now.

"Special needs children have been completely abandoned," said Tara Dean, a parent with four children.

Two of Dean's children have special needs. She said the move to virtual learning isolated them from the in-person therapies and education they need.

"The effects have been devastating and led to complete regression," she said. "Remote learning was never, and will never, be an option for them."

Dean joined Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to call on Gov. Roy Cooper to open schools.

"He needs to direct school districts to give parents the option of full-time, five-days-a-week, in-person instruction," Berger, R-Rockingham, said at a news conference.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is challenging Cooper in the upcoming election, said the state does not need to provide guidelines for the reopening.

"No, I don't think so. Open the schools," he added.

Forest said he thinks districts can decide their own rules.

"You don't need a plan," he said. "You can follow people who are doing this all over the world."

Liz Doherty, the spokeswoman for Cooper’s campaign, said Forest's "plan and spread of misinformation, especially his insistence that masks don't work, would set us back in our fight against COVID."

Forest said that, if he wins the election, he won't require masks for students or teachers once schools reopened.

A spokesperson from Cooper’s office said everyone wants students back in school, but science and data must be followed.

In a statement to WRAL News, Cooper’s office said: "It's stunning that these elected leaders want to fill up our classrooms today without a safety plan, take away the statewide mask requirement and put our children at risk, all to try and make a political splash. We all want our children back in school as soon as possible, but we must follow the science and data and make sure we do so safely."

Berger said online learning is taking a toll on children’s mental health and education, particularly those who are disadvantaged.

"Virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck," he said.

In Wake County, ‘it is pretty stressful’

Wake County Board of Education Chairman Keith Sutton said that, while most students seem to be adjusting to online learning, others are “struggling, and it is pretty stressful for them."

On Tuesday night, the school board met to discuss how to safely return.

"That has been our goal, to get students back into the classroom," said Sutton.

Everything from a full return to school by all students to rotations between in-class and online learning is being considered. Health and safety are big factors. Sutton said he is also concerned about the toll on teachers.

Dana King, the principal at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, said she is excited for the moment students return – whenever that is.

"We have all the personal protection equipment," she said. "Everybody has got hand sanitizers installed in every room by every door."

King said some of the teachers will not be able to return because of their vulnerability to coronavirus.

"I don't have a good plan for that. I mean, I already have classes that are out of balance because teachers won't come in," said King.

Half of Millbrook High's students have chosen learn in the district's online-only Virtual Academy. That could help with class size, but with students learning in different forms, she said she worries the teachers she does have could be stretched thin.

"We think it is possible. Obviously, the teachers are concerned about their safety as well," said Sutton.

How many groups of students are rotated in and out of schools will also be important. The more rotations there are, the fewer students will be in schools at one time.

A big factor for when and if students will return will be the metrics on the virus, like transmission rates in the county.

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