RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 37 on Feb. 26, which would require schools to offer in-person instruction while adhering to public health guidelines.
Sen. Deanna Ballard (R – Watauga), who co-chairs the Senate Education Committee and sponsored the bill, expects the house and senate to override the veto as the bill passed in both chambers with a veto-proof majority.
“At the same time the governor boasts of teacher vaccinations after giving them a higher priority than cancer patients, he vetoes this school reopening bill because it offers school districts the flexibility to operate under the plan that best suits their on-the-ground needs,” Ballard said in a press release. “With teacher vaccinations in full swing, there is no legitimate excuse for Gov. Cooper and the far-left N.C. Association of Educators to oppose the broad reopening flexibility this bill grants to school districts.”
The Senate failed to override the veto on March 1 in a vote of 29 in favor and 20 against with one absent, according to the N.C. legislature. A three-fifths majority is needed to override a veto.
The NCAE stated that it is the state’s largest education advocacy organization for public school employees and represents active, retired and student members. The organization did not support the bill.
“North Carolina public school educators are eager to get back into their classrooms as soon as it is safe to do so, but SB 37 is the opposite of a safe return to in-person instruction,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly in a press release. “By attempting to pre-empt the decision-making authority of local school boards and ignoring the latest scientific guidance, this bill would have needlessly endangered the health and safety of educators and students.”
Kelly thanked Cooper for vetoing the bill.
Cooper said he has two main issues with the bill. The first is that it allows students in middle school and high school to go back to the classroom in violation of the state health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Currently, state guidelines allow K-5 students in the classroom up to five days a week and middle and high schoolers in the classroom on a two-day-a-week schedule.
Watauga County has middle and high school systems on a two-by-three schedule — or Plan B. Students are either in school Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday.
The second issue Cooper has with Senate Bill 37 is that “it hinders local and state officials from protecting students and teachers during an emergency.” Once those two issues Cooper outlined are fixed, he would sign the bill, he said in a statement.
“Students learn best in the classroom and I have strongly urged all schools to open safely to in-person instruction and the vast majority of local school systems have done just that,” Cooper said in a statement. “As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic. Therefore, I veto the bill.”
North Carolina Senate Majority Phil Berger tweeted after Cooper vetoed the bill that an override vote would be brought to the floor.
Rep. Ray Picket (R – Blowing Rock) said he is disappointed the governor vetoed the bill.
The Watauga County Board of Education voted on Feb. 22 to move K-5 students to Plan A beginning March 8. At the meeting, Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said the county was already largely in compliance with Senate Bill 37 if it was signed into law.
Cooper vetoed the bill one day before it was set to become law.