The state House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Thursday to an agreement to reopen North Carolina classrooms for students, unanimously passing a measure that goes beyond the previously vetoed Senate Bill 37 to require elementary school classrooms offer in-person instruction full-time.
Senate Bill 220 The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 requires Grades K-5 to open full-time for students under ‘Plan A’ in-person instruction, a stronger requirement for returning young children to the classroom than Senate Bill 37 contained. Senate Bill 37 would have allowed Grades K-5 to remain in Plan B if districts chose.
It also gives local school districts flexibility to choose between Plan A for Grades 6-12 or move to hybrid learning under Plan B.
Districts could also open Grades 6-12 under a combination of Plan A and Plan B, but all schools must offer students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) full-time classroom access under Plan A.
Schools open under Plan A for Grades 6-12 will be required to detail their plans to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), but the Department will not have the authority to veto a local district’s decision.
Those schools would also be required to partner with the ABC Science Collaborative to study data related to reopening classrooms, an initiative funded with $500,000 of federal funds sent to the Department of Public Instruction.
Every North Carolina school must meet these requirements within 21 days of ratification of Senate Bill 220, but will have the flexibility to open sooner.
All Grade K-5 classrooms would be required to open full-time under Plan A within 21 days after ratification of the agreement, and districts would be allowed to open sooner if possible. The 21 day maximum to return to in-person learning would also apply to Grades 6-12, which must return under Plan A or Plan B by decision of the district.
The measure gives Governor Roy Cooper the authority to order school closures on a district-by-district basis only, and prohibits statewide classroom closures by executive order. Families will also maintain the option of virtual learning if they choose.
The agreement is a major victory for parents, students, and General Assembly lawmakers committed to getting students back into the classroom, said Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) on Thursday.
“Today is just the beginning of our road to education recovery for countless North Carolina families who need our continued focus to get caught up and ready for the learning opportunities ahead for them,” Moore said Thursday.
“This was a shared effort by state leaders to respond to the voices of North Carolina parents, students, and taxpayers who deserve education systems that function at the highest level every day. Our work continues to ensure students have access to intense learning recovery opportunities this semester, this summer, and next year.”
House Education Committee Co-Chair Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), said the shared effort is a milestone, but there is much work to do to get students caught up from a year of remote learning.
“We still have a long way to go, and although this bill is a positive step, and bipartisan in nature, it is unfortunately far too late,” Rep. Torbett said.
“Without a summer program, without constant attention to our students, this bill won’t mean a whole lot. The House has shown a real commitment to help students this session. We will keep that commitment because education is the most important service North Carolina provides to families.”
“We cannot close schools long-term again, so we must prepare to meet the needs of families even throughout emergencies. We can, and we will, deliver on that priority too. Our constitution requires it, and North Carolinians can accomplish it together.”