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N.C. Senate approves bill requiring K-12 schools to reopen

February 9, 2021 GMT
A Marine color guard marches into the Senate chamber during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A Marine color guard marches into the Senate chamber during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina state senators approved a bill Tuesday requiring K-12 public schools to reopen with at least partial in-person instruction made available to the state’s 1.5 million pupils.

The bill passed by a vote of 29-15 and faces opposition from many Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper. It now heads to the House for consideration. If it clears the chamber, it would make its way to a governor who has favored local control over a statewide mandate on school reopening.

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Republicans argue all parents would still be allowed to have their child learn remotely and that schools would have a couple weeks to ensure safety standards are implemented before they are compelled to reopen. Democratic lawmakers have pushed for a delayed implementation and other changes to the bill that Republicans have thus far dismissed.

Teacher advocates worry about the safety of reopening since North Carolina is not currently allowing those workers to get vaccinated. But Cooper said at a news conference Tuesday that he would unveil additional guidance later this week about the timeline for the next phase of vaccinations.

The state’s distribution plan classifies child care staff, K-12 teachers, college and university instructors and support staff as “frontline essential workers.” As such, they would be next in line for the vaccine.

In the meantime, Cooper has called on lawmakers to support a supplemental budget request he proposed last week that includes $468 million in state spending for one-time bonuses.

His plan would offer direct payments of $2,500 to teachers and principals, $2,000 to NC Community College and UNC System workers and $1,500 to noncertified school personnel. The checks would be sent in April.

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Follow Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BryanRAnderson.

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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.