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Op-Ed - In Person Learning Choices for Families

Students need to return to in-person learning, parents need to be able to return to their professional lives and occupations, and teachers and school personnel need environments that meet public health recommendations and support their essential work of educating our children. As a parent and grandparent of children in our local school system and a pastor to thousands of school-aged children and families, I join the ranks of the anxious adults who want to see us back to full in-person learning. The issue is what vehicle is best to accomplish this. Senate Bill 37 (SB-37) – In-Person Learning Choices for Families was drafted and filed this past week to accomplish these purposes. However, there are a few problems with SB-37. First, it excludes over 1,000 children in Nash County and over 100,000 children in our state. We must always advance legislation that includes ALL children. Our constitutional responsibility is for state and local government to provide equal opportunities for all children. The NC Supreme Court has previously ruled we have violated this right and SB-37 further limits equitable and adequate education. For example, we have over 2,000 children in Nash County receiving an individualized educational plan (IEP) yet SB-37 does not allow our school district to prioritize daily instruction based on the variance of needs as outlined in their IEPs. Our most vulnerable learners need both moderate and minimum social distancing options depending on what is best for the child. Second, it strips the authority of our local school board. In Nash County an 11-member school board was elected. School decisions are highly contextual and as much as possible local leadersshould make these local decisions. The COVID-19 virus remains unpredictable and local schools must have the flexibility to adapt if variants cause the infection to surge. SB-37 strips our school board of this power. An 11-member local school board is nimbler than a 170-member state legislature.SB-37 would have you believe parents and teachers are fighting against each other because there is always a group of elected officials who benefit from division. We cannot allow SB-37 to divide us. Everyone wants schools re-opened. Students have already been out too long. I voted against SB-37 so we can get this done locally and safely. I don’t believe I was elected to lead our community down a path of political manipulation but rather to represent and to fight for our shared interests and concerns. Governor Cooper, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Catherine Truitt, State Board of Education Chair, Eric Davis, and a bi-partisan group of state legislators have already publicly encouraged all school districts to return to in-person instruction in a manner that is safe and meets public health recommendations. SB-37 does not do this. We must now look beyond SB-37 and re-open Nash County Public Schools with the best approach for our students, parents, and teachers. My office remains ready to assist in these efforts.

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