From Senate leadership comes this news today about reopening North Carolina schools.

Today, the Senate took decisive action to return students to the classroom for in-person learning. Senate Bill 37, “In-Person Learning Choice for Families,” passed the Senate 29-15.

The bill gives local school districts the choice between providing in-person learning under Plan A (minimal social distancing) or Plan B (moderate social distancing), or a mixture of both, for all K-12 students. Students with exceptional needs would be provided in-person learning under Plan A if parents choose that option. All families are still able to select remote learning under the plan.

The bill directs schools to follow the requirements in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit for reopening, which was developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The legislation aligns with Gov. Roy Cooper’s “recommendation” to return to in-person learning.

“For months we’ve heard from families and students who are clamoring to return to in-person learning. The science and data show that we can reopen schools safely,” Sens. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), chairs of the Senate Education Committee and primary sponsors of the bill, said. “The Governor’s empty rhetoric about the importance of in-person instruction does nothing to help kids. The General Assembly is taking decisive action to actually get students back to school.”

Studies have shown that with mitigation efforts schools can reopen safely.

Last week Gov. Cooper said that research conducted in North Carolina “tells us that in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely, with the right safety protocols in place.”

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen echoed that sentiment, saying: “New studies also reaffirm that strong prevention measures, like the ones we have here for our North Carolina schools, they work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cited North Carolina as an example that schools can reopen safely, even during periods of high community transmission, when they follow those COVID-19 safety protocols.”

This legislation balances the critical need for in-person learning with the requirements set by NCDHHS in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit.

The NCDHHS told the State Board of Education last Thursday that COVID-19 cases associated with K-12 schools accounted for 0.15% of the state’s total cases as of Jan. 30.

The evidence that school closures harm children is overwhelming. As far back as last summer, public health experts at Harvard University warnedthat school closures are “a disaster that some students may never recover from.”

Earlier this month the CDC concluded there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

Last month, UNC and Duke researchers with the ABC Science Collaborative reported “no instances of child-to-adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools” during their examination of 11 open school districts in North Carolina serving 90,000 students. The researchers concluded, “Our data support the concept that schools can stay open safely in communities with widespread community transmission.”