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OPINION

Schools, not lawmakers, should plan reentry

Posted on February 15, 2021

OpinionColumns

James Gailliard

James Gailliard

Students need to return to in-person learning, parents need to be able to return to their professional lives and occupations and teachers and school personnel need environments that meet public health recommendations and support their essential work of educating our children. 

As a parent and grandparent of children in our local school system and a pastor to thousands of school-aged children and families, I join the ranks of the anxious adults who want to see us back to full, in-person learning. The issue is: What vehicle is best to accomplish this?

Senate Bill 37, In-Person Learning Choices for Families, was recently drafted and filed to accomplish these purposes. However, there are a few problems with SB 37.

First, it excludes more than 1,000 children in Nash County and more than 100,000 children in our state. 

We must always advance legislation that includes all children. Our constitutional responsibility is for state and local government to provide equal opportunities for all children. The N.C. Supreme Court has previously ruled we have violated this right, and SB 37 further limits equitable and adequate education. 

For example, we have more than 2,000 children in Nash County whose learning is guided by an individualized educational plan, yet SB 37 does not allow our school district to prioritize daily instruction based on the variance of needs as outlined in their IEPs. Our most vulnerable learners need both moderate and minimum social distancing options depending on what is best for the child.

Second, it strips the authority of our local school board. In Nash County, an 11-member school board was elected. School decisions are highly contextual, and as much as possible, local leaders should make these local decisions. The COVID-19 virus remains unpredictable, and local schools must have the flexibility to adapt if variants cause the infection to surge. 

SB 37 strips our school board of this power. An 11-member local school board is more nimble than a 170-member state legislature.

SB 37 would have you believe parents and teachers are fighting against each other because there is always a group of elected officials who benefit from division. We cannot allow SB 37 to divide us. Everyone wants schools reopened. Students have already been out too long. 

I voted against SB 37 so we can get this done locally and safely. I don’t believe I was elected to lead our community down a path of political manipulation, but rather, to represent and to fight for our shared interests and concerns.

Gov. Roy Cooper, Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis and a bipartisan group of state legislators have already publicly encouraged all school districts to return to in-person instruction in a manner that is safe and meets public health recommendations. SB 37 does not do this.

We must now look beyond SB 37 and reopen Nash County Public Schools with the best approach for our students, parents and teachers. My office remains ready to assist in these efforts.

James Gailliard, D-Nash, represents House District 25 in the N.C. General Assembly and serves as pastor of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount.  

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