NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest calls for vote on school reopening

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest tried Thursday to persuade the State Board of Education to give all North Carolina public schools the choice of fully reopening for in-person classes.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the state’s elementary schools to fully reopen, but he’s left in place restrictions at middle schools and high schools due to COVID-19. Forest, who is a member of the state board, argued Thursday that the board and not the governor should decide on how schools reopen.

But Forest’s motion to allow all K-12 public schools to fully reopen was determined to be out of order. The state board and the state Department of Public Instruction have worked with the governor’s office on school reopening issues.

“We have schools across this state that want to be able to open safely now, and there are other districts across this state that want to be open in some capacity,” Forest, who is running against Cooper for governor, said at Thursday’s meeting. “Why would we as a board deny any school district this ability?”

School reopening hotly debated

Forest’s motion was criticized by Cooper’s campaign, which noted that Forest has missed many state board meetings over the past seven years. The state board is made up of members who are there because of their position, such as lieutenant governor and state treasurer, and people appointed by the governor.

“When you consistently don’t show up for meetings, it’s hard to know how things work.,” Liz Doherty, a spokeswoman for Cooper’s campaign, said Friday. “Dan Forest believes schools should re-open with no plan to keep our children safe and healthy and that is dangerous.”

Forest and other state Republican leaders have criticized Cooper for not allowing all public schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction. Senate Republicans have pointed to how the Harnett County school board passed a resolution this week asking the governor to allow them to fully reopen all schools.

“In my capacity as Lt. Governor, I will do everything possible to safely reopen all public schools for our students and families that want in-person instruction,” Forest tweeted Friday.

Cooper has argued that it’s not yet safe to fully reopen middle schools and high schools. Due to the restrictions, many middle school and high school students are either getting only online classes or a mix of in-person and remote classes.

Cooper’s decision to allow elementary schools to fully reopen has drawn opposition from groups such as the North Carolina Association of Educators, which says it’s not safe for students and teachers to resume in-person classes.

Forest’s motion

Eric Davis, the chairman of the State Board of Education, called for a vote Thursday to endorse updated school health reopening guidance from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

But Forest called for different motion on allowing all grade levels, not just elementary schools, to fully reopen.

“This is guidance by the governor’s office,” Forest said. “But we’re in charge of education statewide, and we know all these secondary issues that are going on with these students by not being in school. We need to get them back in school, and that’s what this motion is about.”

Davis said Forest’s motion was outside the scope of the planned vote, prompting him to withdraw his request.

“The agenda item before us and the main motion before us does not deal with whether schools are open or closed,” Davis said. “It deals with approving the health guidance and is limited in that scope.

“The point you’re raising is worthy of debate but is beyond the scope of this particular agenda item.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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