by Kelly Mann
Director of External Relations, CALN
Progressives across the country are working tirelessly to rewrite the history on school reopenings, claiming that it was a bipartisan effort. The reality is far different, and, in fact, progressive leaders fought to keep schools closed.
Recently, Senator Dan Blue (D–Wake County), claimed 2020 school reopenings were a bipartisan effort. But the record shows that North Carolina’s Democratic leaders did not partner to reopen schools, but actually obstructed those efforts at nearly every single turn.
This outlandish claim that school reopenings were bipartisan is not new, but it is the first time I’ve heard a North Carolina legislator repeat it. Despite what some may say, indefinite school closures were most prevalent in states and districts under progressive leadership.
In March 2020, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper joined nearly every other state in the Union by issuing an order closing all North Carolina schools for the remainder of the year. As fall approached, North Carolina families eagerly awaited an announcement about school reopenings.
In July of 2020, Gov. Cooper unveiled school reopening options: Plan A, B, and C. The governor dictated that Plan B – a hybrid with limited face to face interaction – and Plan C, fully remote, as the only available options. Plan A, full reopening, was not available to local districts.
School systems with progressive leadership, such as Wake County, adopted Plan C, even with over 50% of families committed to returning in-person. Almost half of NC districts planned to offer in-person instruction even at the restricted level the governor required. With thirteen states returning in-person and thirty-four leaving the decision to local boards, parents had questions.
As a result of the state’s resistance to re-opening schools, parents in North Carolina counties began to organize. They wrote to elected officials, submitted public comments to school board meetings, called the governor, and rallied. In December 2020, then-President Elect Joe Biden pledged to reopen all schools in his first 100 days in office. In January of 2021, research showed school transmission rates were lower than community transmission rates. Yet, school systems with progressive leadership made no plans to reopen, and some even regressed, and requested to continue operating all classes online. After successfully reopening K-3 in fall of 2020, Wake County School board members voted in January 2021, to return to complete remote. Durham County remained virtual all school year.
Gov. Cooper’s strategy of issuing edicts from on high worked until it didn’t. Once parents across the state began to mobilize, it became clear to progressive leaders that they needed to pivot their strategy. As a result, they began claiming it was up to local districts to decide when they would open, knowing full well that our state’s largest school districts, still in the palm of progressives, would not re-open anytime soon.
In February 2021, Republican Senators Ballard, Lee, and Hise introduced SB37 to require an in-person option for K-12 students. The bill allowed for individual schools or classrooms to close, but not an entire district. After almost a year of closures, the bill passed the General Assembly 77-42, with only eight Democrats voting to reopen schools. Throughout the process, Democratic Senators Jay Chaudhuri and Don Davis adamantly spoke out against the bill. Democrats characterized the bill as government overreach. Rep. Raymond Smith, pushed, “Decisions to reopen lie with the local district.”
Senator Dan Blue, among the loudest to criticize the school reopening bill, voted against it twice. Rep. James Gailliard didn’t want to usurp local authority. Democrats were content with 90% of schools open, but failed to recognize the impact that these extended closures had on students in the largest districts. While Republicans urged Gov Cooper to sign the bill, the day before it was to become law, the governor put an end to the hopes of children returning to schools in Wake, Mecklenburg, and Cumberland counties with a veto. Democrats rejoiced.
It took another month for Governor Cooper and Democratic legislators to pass a school reopening bill. It’s undeniable: progressive lawmakers played politics with students. Meanwhile, children suffered learning loss and emotional stress. School closures were bad policy, and it was progressive leadership that prevented children and teenagers from returning to the classroom.