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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

NC Senate Advances GOP Bill To Require In-Person Teaching, While Mecklenburg Democrats Oppose It

Cotswold hall 1102.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
A Cotswold Elementary student walks past a social distancing banner on the way to class Nov. 2, 2020. Mecklenburg Democratic state senators say they oppose a bill that would require all North Carolina school districts to offer some in-person instruction. They say the bill needs to be improved.

A Republican bill that would require North Carolina school districts to offer some in-person classroom instruction easily passed the state Senate on second reading Thursday before a final vote next week.

But Mecklenburg County's five Democratic senators all say they oppose the bill as is.

Gov. Roy Cooper urged school districts this week to have some form of in-person instruction. He said research has shown that schools can operate safely even if teachers aren’t yet vaccinated.

Cooper’s comments came after Republicans filed Senate Bill 37, which would require school systems to open up their buildings while still giving parents an online option.

That bill easily passed on second reading, 29 to 16. Two Cumberland County Democrats, Ben Clark and Kirk deViere, voted yes.

In Mecklenburg, state Sens. Jeff Jackson, Mujtaba Mohammed, Deandra Salvador and Joyce Waddell voted no. Natasha Marcus is recovering from COVID-19 and couldn’t vote. She says she opposes the bill as is.

Mohammed wrote on social media that he “cannot support in-person instruction until our frontline staff at our public schools are vaccinated and we can ensure the safety of students and staff through social distancing.”

That’s a break with Cooper’s position.

Marcus said the state should move “carefully.”

Democrats unsuccessfully proposed several amendments to give school districts more flexibility. Another rejected amendment would require all schools have a nurse on staff for the school year starting in August. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not said schools need a nurse to reopen safely.

The bill will likely be approved by the House next.

It’s unclear if Cooper will veto it. In the Senate, the GOP is close to having the 30 votes needed to override any veto. One Republican member, Michael Lee, didn’t vote.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is scheduled to meet Tuesday, where it will consider the superintendent’s plan to return to the classroom starting Feb. 15.

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