‘We want our schools open for in-person instruction': Cooper delays decision on reopening NC schools this fall

Cooper Update 7/1/2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT/WBTV) - Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced that his administration will soon give a statewide directive for reopening K-12 schools this fall.

“My number one opening priority is classroom doors,” Cooper said during an afternoon news briefing. “We want our schools open for in-person instruction in August. The classroom is the best place for children to learn. Recent reports recommend it, and I know many parents and children agree.”

Previous reports suggested that Cooper would announce the reopening directive during Wednesday’s news briefing, but his office confirmed Tuesday evening that the decision would be delayed.

Cooper encouraged district and school administrators to continue work on their three plans to reopen this fall.

The first plan is in-person learning with key health and safety rules in place. The second plan is the same as the first plan, but with fewer children in the classroom at one time. And the third plan is remote learning for all students.

“District and school administrators are still working on ways to implement those plans, and we’re asking them to keep using this time to work with teachers, staff, parents and public health officials to make sure that our schools are opening in the safest possible way,” Cooper added. “We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure we get this right.”

When asked why his administration has delayed making the reopening announcement, Cooper said they’re continuing to get more evidence for the kinds of steps they need to take to keep kids and teachers safe at school, including input from teachers and parents.

“We want to assimilate all of that and make a decision in the next couple of weeks,” Cooper said.

He added that he wants to make a decision in conjunction with the State Board of Eduction, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We all need to be working on this thing together,” Cooper said.

Preparing for in-person classes

The state’s Emergency Management and public health staff began delivering a two-month supply of medical-grade protective wear to schools across North Carolina this week. These supplies will go to school nurses and staff who provide health care to children.

North Carolina has also given school districts access to statewide contracts so they can more easily purchase other health and hygiene supplies like cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer for their staff and students.

“When we had to close schools for in-person instruction in March, our teachers and school support staff, like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, geared up for remote learning. I’m thankful for their work to keep the lessons, the meals, and the support for their students going,” Gov. Cooper said.

“Our goal remains getting children back in classroom for in-person instruction that’s safe for students and their teachers,” Gov. Cooper said.

Cooper continued to stress residents to wear a face covering, wash their hands, and wait six feet apart.

“Sticking to these safety rules now will help get schools back open safely. It will help stabilize our numbers, keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and at the end of the day – it will help save lives. We have the power, and we can do this together,” Gov. Cooper said.

While answering a question, Gov. Cooper says it is possible there will not in-person instruction if the COVID-19 numbers are bad. However, he says officials being more knowledgeable about the coronavirus is a plus in handling the reopening plans.

The North Carolina Association of Educators issued a statement in response Wednesday.

“How to re-open North Carolina school buildings, bus garages, and administrative offices is a critical decision, and we are incredibly thankful for Governor Cooper’s thoughtful and thorough approach,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “COVID information is changing on a daily basis, and the health and safety of all of our state’s educators, students, and their families is at stake. It is far more important to get this decision right than to get it done quickly. NCAE looks forward to working with the Governor and the State Board of Education to ensure educator voices continue to be heard in the planning to safely re-open our schools for students and all educators.”

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved. WBTV contributed to this report.