Governor Cooper announced that starting on October 5, school districts will have discretion to reopen elementary schools for in-person instruction. With this option, referred to as Plan A, classrooms will be able to operate at full capacity while still requiring students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing, and get daily symptom screening. The governor indicated the decision was based on research that suggests younger children are less likely than others to be affected by and also less likely to transmit COVID-19. Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of DHHS, also noted improved COVID-19 metrics across the state. Leaders for the NC Association of Educators are asking teachers to lobby school districts not to reopen elementary schools, saying it endangers students and school employees. Republican legislators want the governor to allow in-class instruction for students of all ages.
After Gov. Cooper declined to issue an executive order compelling employers to provide COVID-19 protection to farm and meat packing workers, the Farmworker Advocacy Network has demanded that Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry issue an Emergency Infectious Disease Standard. This is a set of mandatory infection control requirements that employers must implement for workers deemed essential by the state. Although worker safety guidance was issued by the state Department of Health and Human Services, no mandatory safety requirements across essential workplaces like meatpacking plants and produce fields were issued. Workers in these industries are often forced to work under crowded, poorly ventilated conditions without adequate personal protective equipment. Commissioner Berry had argued against the executive order, asserting that it “appears to overreach the Governor’s power by creating new legal requirements and implying that the NCDOL will enforce standards that exceed existing authority.”
As voters have started mailing in absentee ballots, the state reports that about 3% of ballots have identifiable problems, with the most common being a failure to fully complete the witness section on the outside of the envelope. Additionally, ballots turned in by Black voters have been found to have issues at a rate of 7.6%, compared to 3.4% for Hispanic voters and 2.2% for white voters. Voting rights advocates are monitoring the situation closely. Election officials are required to reach out to you if they find a problem with your ballot and give you a chance to correct it before it is rejected. You can track the status of your ballot with the State Board of Elections here.
A NC Appeals Court ruled 2-1 to reverse a lower court ruling that voided the Voter ID amendment to the NC Constitution. The earlier ruling, issued in 2019, found that the NCGA was illegally formed due to racial gerrymandering and therefore did not have authority to revise the state constitution. Because of other lawsuits, voter ID will remain on hold and will not be required in the 2020 election cycle.
On Thursday, the UNC Board of Governors approved a controversial change to the chancellor search process used by each UNC system campus. In the traditional process, the Board of Trustees for a campus would submit at least two candidates to the UNC System President, who would then choose the final candidate for approval by the UNC Board of Governors. The new process will allow the UNC System President to unilaterally recommend two candidates to the search committee and mandate that at least one of these will become an automatic finalist, effectively giving the System President the power to both appoint finalists and choose the final candidate.