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North Carolina teachers’ unions demand support for undocumented immigrants, more funding to reopen schools

The North Carolina state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – Two North Carolina teachers’ unions are calling on state officials to meet certain demands before schools reopen amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) has started a petition calling for the General Assembly to provide more funding for the state’s schools.

Meanwhile, one of its local chapters, the Durham Association of Educators (DAE), wants district officials to extend health care and economic support to children of undocumented immigrants after an 8-year old student, Aurea Soto Morales, died last month from complications of COVID-19.

DAE President Michelle Burton said Morales contracted COVID-19 from her parents, who must continue to work and lack access to health care because of their immigration status.

“We have to protect our students and ensure their safety and health,” Burton said. “If I have a child who comes to school sick, and they’re in the classroom, it affects everyone in the building.”

Burton also wants Gov. Roy Cooper to shut down the state and allow COVID-19 transmission rates to drop before students return to school. A DAE statement on reopening also accused Republicans of not supporting educators for a decade.

“Do not be deceived: (President Donald) Trump, (U.S. Education Secretary Betsy) DeVos, and (Senate Leader Phil) Berger want schools to open because they care about protecting wealth and big business,” the DAE statement said. “Their failure to invest in public education over the last decade shows that they do not value our children or school workers.”

Cooper said last week that schools should reopen with smaller in-person classes, but school districts can choose to resume only with remote learning.

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education voted Thursday to start the school year with full online instruction for the first nine weeks, and officials will work on partially reopening classrooms based on the severity of the outbreak.

For children to safely return to in-person learning, schools need more funding to follow public health guidelines, NCAE spokesman Kevin Rogers said.

NCAE, in a petition started last week, called on the General Assembly to provide schools funding to secure the personal protective equipment and other supplies that are required.

NCAE also wants the state to allocate the same amount of funding per student as it did in the 2019-2020 school year despite a COVID-19-related drop in enrollment.

Rogers said “under normal circumstances,” issuing funding per pupil makes sense, but teachers are concerned about layoffs.

Brooke Medina, director of communications for the Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based nonprofit policy organization, said NCAE is using the pandemic to push its political views.

“Children should not be held hostage to the NCAE’s political agenda, and the money should follow the students,” she said.

Pat Bryan, a spokesman for Berger, R-Rockingham, also believes NCAE’s stance is politically motivated, adding North Carolina schools are in a better position than most states.

“The General Assembly, in collaboration with Gov. Cooper and Democratic legislators, has already appropriated $600 million for schools to deal with pandemic-related issues,” Bryan said. “During that process, the NCAE was nowhere to be seen.”

Burton said Friday she had received backlash from DAE’s statement on reopening schools, which also included, “There are concrete policies that have permitted other countries to flatten the curve and return to public life: moratoriums on rent and mortgage, universal health care, direct income support regardless of immigration status.”

Burton said the statement is not about politics, but it’s a cry for help for the district’s students who are mostly from communities of color and are at higher risk for COVID-19.

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