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These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: Cooper Says Republican Bill Would 'Strip' School Safety Measures

Roy Cooper 020221 file
N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper appears at a Feb. 2, 2021, press conference in Raleigh where he joined the state's superintendent to call for public school districts to offer in-person classes.

Republicans in the North Carolina Senate have passed a bill that would require all school districts in the state to offer in-person learning for students who want it.

While Gov. Roy Cooper has said he wants districts to offer in-person instruction, he wants districts to make the decision, not lawmakers. Cooper has also said he has some concerns with the legislation "particularly stripping out some of the health protocols that are in place." WRAL's Paul Specht joins us to assess the governor's statement.

Marshall Terry: First, Paul, what are the safety protocols in place in schools right now?

Paul Specht: Right now, the only options for school districts are remote learning, Plan C, or Plan B, which is in-person classes, however, with many, many social distancing protocols in place. And that means setting the students' desks farther apart, keeping teachers six feet away from each other when they go into meetings, changing how lunches are done, things like that. School looks very different under Plan B than it would normally, or even under Plan A. Cooper said more than 90 school districts are already operating under some form of Plan B.

Terry: You've already mentioned this a little bit, but I want to make sure we're clear: Under the bill, districts would have to choose between Plan A and Plan B. What are the differences between those?

Specht: You know, there are many things that are the same, like face coverings... They're required under plans A and B. Protecting vulnerable populations — schools would still have to do that. Cleaning and hygiene requirements for washing hands and things like that — all the same under Plan A and Plan B. It's really the distancing requirements that change from Plan B to Plan A.

Under Plan A, schools would not be required to set desks more than six feet apart. Staff meetings would not be required to maintain six feet between teachers when they meet for lunch or recess or just teacher meetings or in break rooms. Even transportation becomes affected if Plan A is enacted. Under Plan B, carpoolers are only allowed to carpool with other people in their family. That's not required under Plan A.

Terry: Does the Senate bill take away health protocols, as Cooper said?

Specht: When he says it's "stripped out," that's that's a little misleading because it implies that something would inherently change. And the only thing that would inherently change is the menu of options for these school boards. It would expand it so that they could also choose Plan A, which does not require as much social distancing.

The Plan A is more targeted toward making school more normal like it used to be. But in theory, if your school district uses Plan B and it still chooses to use Plan B, then it appears as if nothing will change. There is nothing in this bill that tinkers with or strips or anything from the Plan B requirements that are already in place.

Terry: So, what did Cooper mean when he said the bill would take away some of the health protocols that are in place?

Specht: What he meant by that was his administration and his health department only require plans B and C, and if school boards choose to go with Plan A, if it becomes an option through this bill, then they would not be complying with the current health department guidance. The health department does not believe it is safe to go with Plan A yet. And so, justifying his comments, his office said, "Hey, you know, health protocols would be stripped away in that if you're a teacher and you go from Plan B to Plan A, then some of these things wouldn't be in place anymore."

And of course, for the sake of our fact check, it's important to point out that that decision rests with the local school boards. They are the ones who make that choice. This bill would give them that choice, but it would not automatically strip those protocols.

Terry: Is Cooper expected to sign the bill?

Specht: I would be very surprised if he signed this bill, but you never know. Right now, he is just encouraging school boards to open up their schools to Plan B. There's a handful that are still only doing remote learning. He's pushing those school boards to open under some form of Plan B.

Terry: So how did you rate this statement by Gov. Cooper, then?

Specht: We rated this half-true, and we looked at it from the perspective of teachers. If you are under Plan B right now, and it goes to Plan A — your school board chooses Plan A — then, yes, some of your protections would be taken away. However, one thing that Cooper left out is that that decision would be made by the local school boards. This bill does not automatically require schools to go with Plan A. They could still operate under Plan B, which is already allowed. And that's why it's half-true.

Terry: Thank you, Paul.

Specht: Thank you.

Terry: That's Paul Specht of WRAL. These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.