FILE - Gov. Roy Cooper NC

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing on North Carolina’s coronavirus pandemic response Friday April 17, 2020, at the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Roy Cooper reiterated his opposition Thursday to a Republican-led bill that resumes in-person learning in North Carolina public schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 37, passed the General Assembly and was sent to Cooper on Wednesday, but the governor said he would not sign the legislation until it adheres to public health guidance and expands local control.

"We need our children back in the classroom," Cooper said Thursday during a news briefing. "We need to do it safely. We need to follow the guidelines, but they need to be back."

SB 37 requires all public K-12 schools to resume in-person learning for students with special needs without social distancing and all other K-12 classrooms to operate based on school districts' discretion. Cooper, however, said putting middle-school and high-school students back in the classrooms without social distancing goes against public health guidance. He said the bill also hinders local or state officials from responding to an emergency.

There are provisions in the bill that allow local schools to revert to remote learning in case of an outbreak. Proponents of the bill said scientific evidence shows continuing to withhold in-person instruction from children could cause further mental health and learning damage.

Wake County parent Kelly Mann, who has advocated for the bill, said Cooper needs to make a decision now so parents can move on to the next step. About 90% of schools are offering in-person learning to some or all students, according to Cooper.

"This is not a question about bars. This is not a question about bowling alleys. This is about children," Mann said in a statement released by Senate Republicans. "Dragging this decision out for another 10 days would be yet another affront to parents who desperately want some certainty in their children's education."

Cooper has until Feb. 28 to sign or veto the bill before it automatically becomes law. Democrats have filed a similar bill that follows the state's public health guidance. The measure, Senate Bill 78, also has a provision that includes flexibility for public health officials.

Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, one of the sponsors of SB 37, said if Cooper plans to veto the bill, he should do it now so the Legislature can vote to override the veto. It would take a three-fifths vote from both chambers of the General Assembly to override Cooper's veto.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.