School reopening: Legislative leaders are simply too cheap to do it right

Last week, N.C. House lawmakers approved a bill for K-12 school districts to offer partial in-person instruction, but the Senate did not agree to send it to the governor due to recent changes made to the proposal.

The changes included allowing educators to receive special accommodations that could allow them to continue teaching remotely if either they or a child of theirs are at increased risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.

The Republican majority also beat back several Democrat-sponsored amendments to change the bill even more, such as including charter schools, giving districts more time to plan or giving districts more control over the amount of required distancing in classrooms.

Local leaders are advising for the state to “proceed with extreme caution in reopening public schools”, especially in school districts that have historically received less funding.

From The Fayetteville Observer:

Nowhere is this concern about reopening public schools more relevant than here in North Carolina. Research confirms that Black and brown children face a triple whammy of geographic disadvantages. 

They tend to be concentrated disproportionately in counties and school districts where there is inadequate political and/or financial support for their education (936,000 or 41% of all students), and in neighborhoods characterized by hyper-segregation (944,000 or 41% of all students) and concentrated poverty (433,000 or 19% of all students). Moreover, as research also reveals, many of these young people live in multigenerational — and often overcrowded — households, known sources of potential coronavirus transmission.

Making matters worse, students in these triple-whammy communities often attend schools with the types of aging and rapidly deteriorating infrastructure that pose a risk to their health and wellbeing. In addition, more often than not, school-based supports — including access to nursing services — are insufficient to address the students’ physical and socio-emotional development needs, a situation exacerbated by elected officials’ refusal in some states to expand Medicaid.

 With the state’s $5 billion unreserved balance that has not been appropriated, the NCGA has available funding to go all in on ensuring long-standing needs and safety measures in school districts across the state are met.

From The Progressive Pulse:

The need for such steps ought to be blatantly obvious to anyone paying attention to what’s happening on the ground. As Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras observed during a Tuesday panel hosted by the Hunt Institute and reported this afternoon by NC Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress, it’s easy enough to order teachers and other school personnel back to school, but it’s much harder to keep them healthy and not running for the exits out of a constant fear for their health and well-being.

While Republican leaders want to swiftly reopen schools, the health and safety of students and educators should not be overlooked. Guidance from state public health officials should not be ignored or cut out of any legislation, but fully implemented in order to ensure a safe learning environment for all students across the state. 

Bottom Line: The lives of our educators and students should not be put at risk to fulfill a party’s political agenda. If Republicans want to swiftly reopen schools, now is the time to properly invest all appropriate resources and safeguards into our school districts. 

It’s the right thing to do.

Alanna Joyner