North Carolina Republican leaders, joined by a group of parents, demanded Wednesday that families be given an option for full-time, in-person instruction at schools.
Few, if any, of North Carolina's 1.5 million public school students are getting daily face-to-face classes at the start of the school year. Senate leader Phil Berger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and GOP state superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt said Wednesday that they intend to mobilize people across the state to pressure Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to give parents the option of in-person, full-time school.
Berger said virtual learning is especially failing students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with exceptional needs.
"Virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck," Berger said at a news conference. "It's a slow -motion train wreck from which Harvard's public health experts are telling us that some children will never recover."
Forest and Truitt also said that state health officials should be more concerned about the anxiety, depression and addiction among students during remote learning.
Most North Carolina public schools aren't offering full-time, daily instruction due to the restrictions put in place by the state to control coronavirus.
Reopening takes partisan tone
The school reopening debate has taken on a partisan tone at the national, state and local level.
Berger said "very little learning" is happening virtually. He blamed Cooper's decision on listening to NCAE.
"Governor Cooper created this problem, and he needs to fix it," Berger said. "He needs to direct school districts to give parents the option of full-time, five-day-a-week, in-person instruction now."
Many Republicans have criticized the decision not to resume daily in-person instruction, saying it's a hardship for families. Forest, the Republican running against Cooper, has promised he'll reopen schools if elected in November.
"As governor, I would open the schools," said Forest, the Republican running against Cooper.
But many Democrats say schools are making the right call in being cautious about returning students to school.
"Instead of trying to bully school districts into reopening, our elected officials should be working to ensure every one of our North Carolina schools have the funding they need for PPE, contact tracing and learning technology to make sure our students and educators are safe," Jen Mangrum, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent, said in a statement.
"While Governor Cooper has prioritized giving schools the tools they need for success, Republicans in the General Assembly have given up and left town to go campaign for re-election," said Mangrum, a UNCG professor. "Our students and teachers deserve better, and when I'm Superintendent of Public Instruction, I'll make sure our schools have all the resources they need during this pandemic for North Carolina's children to get the world-class education they're entitled to."
Many students not in school since March
The majority of the state's students haven't had face-to-face classes since Cooper ordered school buildings closed in mid-March to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Cooper allowed schools to reopen in August under social-distancing rules that limit how many students can ride buses and be on campus. Students and school employees also have to wear face coverings and pass daily temperature checks and health screenings before they're allowed on campus.
But the majority of school districts took the option Cooper gave to continue using online classes only. But even when students return, they'll likely not get full-time, in-person instruction.
The state's social-distancing restrictions mean that schools can't operate at full capacity. At those schools, student get in-person instruction for a few days a week or every other week or two. The rest of the time they take online classes.
In contrast, many private schools have reopened with daily in-person classes. They're not subject to the same reopening rules as public schools.
Face masks questioned
The issue of wearing face coverings has become political as well.
Forest said he doesn't personally believe that wearing face coverings is effective. He also said schools shouldn't be required to have students and staff wear masks. He also said he'd lift the state's face mask requirement if he's elected governor.
Berger said it should be a local decision whether face coverings are required to be worn at school.
Frustration grows among parents
The continued use of online classes has led to growing frustration among families.
"Remote learning has been detrimental the well-being of our kids," said Sandy Joiner, the parent of a Wake County high school senior.
Joiner said her son asks each week when he can return to school. The Wake County school system has a target date of returning students on Oct. 26, but no decision has been made yet.
Tara Deane, a Wake County parent, said that remote learning is failing her two adopted special-needs children from China. Deane says she's had to put one child on medication because remote learning has made her so anxious that she's been self-mutilating.
Michele Morrow, a parent and nurse, said teachers have strong immune systems and shouldn't worry about returning to classrooms.