RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/WAVY) – Gov. Roy Cooper is urging schools to reopen amid the pandemic to help students for “reasons beyond academic instruction.”
“School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices. Teachers play an important role in keeping students safe by identifying cases of abuse, hunger, homelessness and other challenges,” he said.
Cooper said research shows in-person learning can be done safely.
“It’s time to get our children back into the classroom,” Cooper said.
But it is important for schools to follow the safety protocols laid out by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
NCDHHS updated its “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit” on Tuesday with new guidance for schools to safely reopen.
The governor said getting students back into school has been a No. 1 priority.
“Students who are ready to get back to the classroom should get that chance,” he said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Cathy Truitt also spoke Tuesday and urged schools to give students the option of in-person learning.
Truitt cited data that showed in-person can be done safely.
“Learning loss resulting from COVID has the potential to be a generational hurdle, but the data we have seen shows us that schools can reopen safely if they adhere to COVID prevention policies,” Truitt said. “This is absolutely a challenge we must face head-on.”
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said research shows strong prevention measures work in schools.
“Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools,” said Cohen. “Our Department will continue to serve our school communities, offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.”
Cooper, Truitt, Cohen, and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis sent a letter to local school board members and superintendents encouraging in-person instruction across the state.
That letter can be read here.
In response, the North Carolina Associated of Educators said educators need to be vaccinated before schools reopen.
“Without the widespread vaccination of educators and strictly enforced social distancing, it is impossible for many schools to open safely, and for the schools that have been open, they need help,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.
Cooper was asked about vaccinating teachers at Tuesday’s press conference.
He said teachers are considered essential workers and are “up next” to receive the vaccine.
Cooper’s comments come as North Carolina marks its lowest number of hospitalizations since Dec. 15 and the smallest single-day total of new cases since Dec. 27.
Cooper said the recent trends show “stabilization” but urged North Carolinians to not let their guard down.
The Coronavirus Task Force is likely to provide updates on the vaccine distribution efforts in the state, which is getting a financial boost from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) The federal agency is committing more than $100 million to help North Carolina with vaccine-related costs.
On Monday, 10 On Your Side was in Currituck County, where health officials are holding drive through vaccine clinics. The county commissioner said he has seen people from Virginia and as far as Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania in line for a vaccine in Currituck. Officials are asking that only North Carolina residents get a vaccine at these clinics, but because it is a federal program, they can’t turn out-of-state residents away.