RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican state leaders and a group of parents called for Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to allow full-time, in-person classes Wednesday, citing their concerns about the negative impacts remote learning is having on kids and families.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R), who is running against Cooper this year, said there should not be a requirement for students and teachers to wear masks.
“I don’t think so. No. I don’t think there’s any science that backs that up,” he said. “But, if that is what the parent determines is best for their student, if that is what the school determines right now, get the kids back in the classroom. That’s priority number one.”
He also said if elected he would lift the state requirement to wear a mask.
On Wednesday morning, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield urged Americans to wear masks and get flu vaccinations.
“Today and even after we have a (COVID-19) vaccine, CDC encourages all Americans to embrace the powerful tools that we have right now – to wear a mask, particularly when they’re in public, maintain social distancing, routine vigilant hand washing, be smart about crowds and stay home when you’re sick,” Redfield said. “(Face coverings) are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Cooper required public schools to operate at a minimum of what’s known as plan B, which is a mix of in-person and remote learning. District leaders could choose to operate under plan C, which is all remote learning. The Department of Public Instruction says most students began the year in districts operating under plan C.
“Strikes me that it’s all virtual and very little learning,” said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger. “Virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck.”
Forest criticized plans A, B and C as outlined by the Cooper administration.
When asked what his plan would be if elected governor, he said, “You really don’t need a plan. You can follow people that are doing this all over the world. They’ve done it safely, and these schools can find ways to open safely and get kids back in the classroom.”
In a campaign video last month, Forest said, “And I will make sure that come January 1, regardless of what’s going on, that our kids will be back in school.”
In a statement Wednesday, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said, “It’s stunning that these elected leaders want to fill up our classrooms today without a safety plan, take away the state-wide mask requirement and put our children at risk, all to try and make a political splash. We all want to get our children back in school as soon as possible but we must follow the science and data and make sure we do so safely.”
NC Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen was asked about the timeline for when a decision would be made about whether school districts could open under a less restrictive plan.
“Our trends are moving in the right direction, and that is a very good sign. I think we continue to need to do ongoing work to keep those trends moving in the same direction,” she said. “All of this progress continues to be fragile. So, I want to encourage everyone to continue to do the social distancing, continue to do the masks, because we do want our kids back in the classroom.”
Parents at Wednesday’s press conference talked about their frustrations with the lack of support for children with special needs, concerns about children falling behind in their education and long-term impacts on those kids for time they’ve spent out of classrooms.
“I want a voice and a choice for my children. I am sick of them being used as pawns in a political game,” said Tara Deane, a parent who has two adopted children from China who have special needs.
Tracy Taylor added, “The special needs population has been ignored in this pandemic.”
Sen. Berger talked about the impacts the lack of in-person instruction could have later in life for kids, citing a study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that noted, “While the precise learning losses are not yet known, existing research suggests that the students in grades 1-12 affected by the closures might expect some 3 percent lower-income over their entire lifetimes.”