Editorial: Gov. Cooper’s school announcement good for now

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement on Tuesday is one with local choice at the forefront.

“Today, we announce that North Carolina schools will open for both in-person and remote learning with key safety precautions to protect the health of our students, teachers, staff and families. This is the plan B that we asked schools to prepare,” Cooper said in a much-anticipated news conference.

His announcement, though, does not appear to require a mix of in-person and online instruction. When Cooper made the announcement, he called it “a measured approach that will allow children to attend.” The word “allow” is key because school districts can also choose to go online only “if that’s best for them.”

A news release after his press conference makes requirements, or lack thereof, more clear.

“Districts may choose to operate under plan C, which calls for remote learning only, and health leaders recommend schools allow families to opt in to all-remote learning,” the news release said.

Districts can also choose exactly how the so-called plan B looks in their community.

Cooper chose an option that will make neither in-person cheerleaders nor those worried about spread in classrooms happy. But he picked one that allows local districts to prioritize health if cases spike in their region or to continue a mixture of instruction methods when cases allow it. Is that the best path forward for all of the state’s residents? Probably not. But there is no perfect plan for the state’s public schools amid a global pandemic.

Republican leaders in North Carolina expressed a clear preference in their reactions to Cooper’s announcement for a plan that simultaneously offers some of all options, particularly one for those who only want in-person instruction. Perhaps that works in a world where school systems have infinite resources or legislators pony up millions of dollars to make a three-pronged system work (in-person, mixed and all-online) in every one of state’s public school system. But money and resources are limited. So are teachers, many of whom are justifiably concerned about their health for in-person classes.

To move forward as a state, it’s critical that COVID-19 stop being about politics and imagined conspiracy theories and start focusing on data and statistics. So here are some facts: North Carolina is setting new records seemingly every couple days for case increases and hospitalizations. Returning children to full-time, in-person classes will only worsen the state’s outbreak, putting many thousands of school staffers at greater risk.

Cooper’s plan may need tweaking as the COVID-19 outbreak changes, but it’s a good option for now.