(The Center Square) – As North Carolina Republicans doubled down on calling for Gov. Roy Cooper to sign a school reopening bill passed last week by the General Assembly, House Democrats introduced another bill Tuesday that would resume in-person learning in public schools.
House Bill 112, called A Safe Return for In-Person Learning, follows the state's public health guidance for reopening schools, encourages in-person instruction for students with disabilities and academic plans and gives governing boards the decision-making power for the rest of the school year.
Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, is the main sponsor of the bill, which was scheduled to be introduced Tuesday on the House floor. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 37 last week, however. It offers all K-12 schools more flexibility in reopening. Cooper has made clear his opposition of SB 37, which was sponsored by Republicans.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' public health toolkit was updated Feb. 2 to allow K-5 public school students to return to in-person classrooms without the 6-feet social distancing requirement under Plan A.
SB 37, on the other hand, authorizes all K-12 public schools to operate under Plan A, if districts choose, and requires all students with special needs to learn in a Plan A environment.
Cooper has until Sunday to sign or veto SB 37 before it automatically becomes law. The governor said Thursday he would not sign the measure because it does not adhere to public health guidance and limits local or state officials from responding to an emergency.
Senate Republicans, House Republicans and parents who support SB 37 made a second plea to Cooper on Tuesday morning to sign the bill.
"People are looking to their government for leadership, yet all they're getting from the governor is inaction," said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, one of the sponsors of SB 37. "Gov. Cooper needs to either sign or veto the bill; continuing to procrastinate does nothing but hold our kids back."
Senate Republicans said some parents have purchased billboard advertising to pressure state leaders to act on school reopening. The North Carolina Republican Party called on Democrats who voted to approve SB 37 on Tuesday to push Cooper to sign the bill.
While pressure mounts from parents and leaders on the right, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest education advocacy organization for public school employees, said they want schools to reopen with the 6-feet social distancing requirement, vaccines for school employees and asked that teachers, school staff and community members be involved in the decision-making process.
The Democrats' House bill requires NCDHHS to follow the national vaccination plan and allow teachers to be vaccinated with frontline workers. It also instructs NCDHHS to conduct a joint study with the North Carolina Department of Instruction on the outcomes of the reopening plans, and it gives the state and local officials the authority to modify current plans.
Senate Democrats also filed a similar bill that follows the state's public health guidance. The measure, Senate Bill 78, has a provision that includes flexibility for public health officials. The bill introduced by Sens. Don Davis, D-Greene, and Dan Blue, D-Wake, was referred to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate on Feb. 11.