North Carolina Democratic Senate challenger Jeff Jackson voted against a bipartisan bill that requires school districts in the state to offer some form of in-person instruction.
Jackson, a Charlotte-based attorney who serves as a state senator, was one of 16 Democrats to vote against the bill on Thursday. If enacted, the legislation would give local school boards 15 days to reopen with in-person classes. North Carolina parents are also given a virtual learning option under the bill.
Jackson's vote against school reopenings came just hours after CDC director Rochelle Walensky said there is "increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen," adding that the "vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools." Former Democratic state senator Joel Ford accused Jackson of hypocrisy, noting that the Charlotte Democrat has pledged to lead with "science" and follow CDC guidelines.
"For a state senator who's already declared for the U.S. Senate, I really think it's hypocritical for him to come out and say we need to follow the science, and now that the science has come out, he still voted against [reopening schools]," Ford told the Washington Free Beacon. "I think it shows what's wrong with our politics—we can't play politics with families, and we definitely can't play politics with public education."
Republicans are certain to raise the issue as Jackson runs to succeed three-term senator Richard Burr (R.), with the GOP eager to capitalize on the push for in-person learning in an attempt to appeal to suburban voters. Two Democratic state senators voted in favor of the reopening bill, which received no dissenting Republican votes.
Jackson did not return a request for comment. He is the Democratic primary's early favorite, having raked in more than $500,000 since announcing his candidacy in late January. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) reportedly preferred Jackson to run over failed challenger Cal Cunningham in 2020, but Jackson objected to Schumer's campaign strategy of spending "the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money." Schumer is yet to weigh in on the primary race.
While the reopening bill will likely reach Gov. Roy Cooper's desk, it's unclear if the Democrat will sign it. Cooper on Tuesday expressed support for in-person learning but refused to require local school districts to reopen. Senate Republicans would need 30 votes to override a potential veto—the bill received 29 votes on Thursday, but one of its Republican cosponsors was absent.
Many North Carolina students have been stuck with virtual schooling throughout the pandemic as local teachers' unions pressure school boards to refrain from reopening. One Durham-based union in July demanded an array of far-left policy goals in order to hold in-person classes, including Medicare for All and "direct income support regardless of immigration status." Durham Public Schools planned to offer in-person classes for elementary, middle, and "exceptional" high school students at the time but reversed course following the union's objection.
Jackson is currently set to face former Democratic state senator Erica Smith in the primary. Smith also ran against Republican senator Thom Tillis in 2020 but lost the primary after Schumer threw his support behind Cunningham. Other rumored primary candidates include former state treasurer Janet Cowell, former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, and Marine veteran Dan McCready.