Education, News, public health

Editorial: Time to roll up our sleeves and strengthen the laws that require vaccinations for school children

With a new school year right around the corner, the editorial board of the Greensboro News & Record reminds us of the need to listen to our medical professionals when it comes to vaccinating our children.

The numbers won’t be crunched for a few months, but officials fear that the disturbing trend of the last few years will continue. The percentage of children who have not been vaccinated is rising, despite the efforts of public health and school officials and despite reams of evidence from medical professionals showing that vaccinations are safe and effective.

Exemptions to the law are allowed for two reasons: medical and religious. Medical exemptions require documentation that the child has an allergy or some other condition that makes vaccination unsafe. Only about 1 in 1,000 children have a medical exemption.

The alarming increase is in the exemptions for religious reasons. All parents need to do to obtain a religious exemption is write a statement of their religious objections.

Last year, about 1 out of 300 North Carolina students were granted such exemptions.

We’ve already seen what can happen. Buncombe County, with the highest rate of parents requesting religious exemptions, had the largest outbreak of chickenpox in North Carolina since that vaccine became available. Buncombe County also had an outbreak of pertussis, called whooping cough in the bad old days when it was sometimes fatal to infants.

Officials consider the vaccines that prevent many childhood diseases to be one of the greatest public health success stories of recent decades. These diseases are not to be taken lightly.

Measles used to kill children and leave others blind or with neurological problems. Chickenpox can necessitate amputations, cause shingles later in life, and even kill infants and people with weakened immune systems. The list goes on.

Why would parents deliberately not take advantage of vaccines to prevent these diseases? Sincere religious beliefs probably figure in a few cases, but it’s likely that junk science, conspiracy theories and social media play a much bigger role.

Many of the so-called anti-vaxxers have bought in to the misinformation campaign started by the thoroughly discredited research of Andrew Wakefield, a former British physician who in 1998 published a “study” in The Lancet, a medical journal, claiming a link between the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella — often simply called MMR — and autism. The Lancet later retracted the “study” as false, and Wakefield lost his medical license. But the myths keep circulating, despite extensive new research showing there is no link, and that the MMR vaccination saves lives.

Some parents selfishly decide not to have their children vaccinated, believing that since most others are vaccinated, their children will be safe. That’s a false assumption, as the outbreaks in Asheville prove.

The very success of vaccinations makes some parents think they aren’t necessary. Today’s parents grew up without experiencing those diseases or having known friends who died or were permanently damaged by them. They don’t see the diseases as a real threat, despite what public health officials try to tell us.

But skipped vaccinations endanger not just their own children but also others — infants, pregnant women and those who legitimately can’t take vaccines.

State officials should strengthen the sensible laws that require vaccinations for children to attend any school, whether public, charter or private.

Today’s children face enough dangers; why add an easily preventable disease to the list?

Read more

immigration, News

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Cooper vetoes controversial HB370 ICE detainer bill

Gov. Roy Cooper wasted little time in vetoing House Bill 370, “An Act to Require Compliance with Immigration Detainers and Administrative Warrants.”

The House gave the measure final approval Tuesday on a 62-53 vote, with proponents saying the bill was necessary to aid law enforcement in protecting public safety.

But more than 100 national and state organizations joined together to call the bill dangerous, noting that it would tear apart families and strip local law enforcement of their ability to make decisions in the best interest of the public.

Governor Cooper released the following statement in issuing Wednesday’s veto:

“This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina. As the former top law enforcement officer of our state, I know that current law allows the state to jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.

This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties. Finally, to elevate their partisan political pandering, the legislature has made a sheriff’s violation of this new immigration duty as the only specifically named duty violation that can result in a sheriff’s removal from office.”

Education, News, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

E(race)ing Inequities | How race impacts everything from teacher experience, to student discipline, to access to gifted programs

With a new school year just around the corner, lawmakers, educators and parents should make time to read the thought-provoking new report “E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools” by the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED).

Policy Watch sat down last week to discuss the findings with James E. Ford, who is the executive director of CREED as well as a State Board of Education member and former NC Teacher of the Year.

In our extended interview, Ford explains why it’s time for another candid talk about race, and why North Carolina must adopt racial equity as a stated goal for our public school system.

If you don’t have time to read the full report. Here are seven takeaways from Ford and co-author Nicholas Triplett that merit further discussion:

 

  • Student groups of color had a higher likelihood of being taught by a novice [teacher] as compared to their White counterparts when controlling for gender, free/reduced lunch status, language status, and special education status.
  • Student groups of color were also far less likely to be in classes with a teacher of the same race/ethnicity.
  • Students of color were strongly over-represented within the districts/LEAs with the highest teacher turnover and vacancy rates.
  • Given the powerful influence that teachers have on virtually all measures of educational success, our results provide evidence that students of color in North Carolina have less access to the highly qualified, experienced, stable, and diverse teachers that are likely to provide them with the best chance of school success.
  • Not only are American Indian, Black, and Multiracial students over-represented generally in the incidence of both in-school and out-of-school suspensions, they appear to be the disproportionate recipients of suspensions involving subjective offenses and receive harsher forms of discipline (OSS vs. ISS) at higher rates. Furthermore, Black students receive longer suspensions on average than any other student group.
  • To give a sense of the magnitude of the racial discipline gap in the state, if Black students had been given out-of-school suspension (OSS) at the state average rate, almost 30,000 fewer Black students would have experienced OSS during the 2016-2017 school year.
  • The under-exposure of student groups of color in gifted and talented programs has the potential to diminish their long-term educational attainment, postsecondary participation, and professional achievements.

Learn more about the history of race and education in North Carolina in CREED‘s  “Deep Rooted” companion report.

Commentary, Environment, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Plastic is not fantastic: Durham considers 10-cent fee on single-use bags

They clutter the gutters and girdle the turtles. They snag in the trees and float in the seas.

Plastic bags are strangling the planet.

To reduce the amount of plastic waste in Durham, the city-county Environmental Affairs Board last week unanimously endorsed a proposed draft ordinance that would assess a 10-cent fee on most single-use plastic and paper bags at many food and retail outlets.

“We need to reduce waste and prevent trash in the first place,” Crystal Dreisbach, executive director of Don’t Waste Durham, told the EAB. “We need a systemic change by business, industry and government, and to provide solutions for consumers.” [Read more…]

Bonus read in environmental news:

2. Budget gridlock: Part of the right’s strategy for undermining state government

There was a fascinating exchange regarding North Carolina’s ongoing budget stalemate last week at a community meeting in High Point between State Rep. John Faircloth – a conservative Republican and co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee – and one of his constituents. The subject of the Q&A was Senate leader Phil Berger – the individual who is widely recognized to be the driving force in the GOP’s ongoing refusal to enter into negotiations with Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Democrats.

Constituent: Do you members of the House have any clout with Phil Berger? [Laughter in the room] As you said, we are adults, let’s sit down and talk. Because it appears to me that Phil Berger is not willing to sit down and talk unless he can have his way.

Faircloth: He’s…uh…he’s been invited to a lot of discussions.

Constituent: Why should we give in to Phil Berger? Because he’s acting like a spoiled child.

Faircloth: He chooses that style and he’s the head of the Senate.[Read more…]

3. Chief Justice, Governor announce new push to break school-to-prison pipeline

The tobacco fields near East Guilford High School are reminders of bygone times when getting into trouble at school meant a trip to the principal’s office, and maybe a phone call to a child’s parents.

A paddling by the principal, now banned throughout North Carolina, and a severe scolding at home were about the worst outcomes for a student who misbehaved.

But the old ways of disciplining children at school are long gone. The most dramatic changes commenced about two decades ago when school districts began to adopt “zero-tolerance” policies for bad behavior. [Read more…]

Bonus read in courts news:

4. Advocates, officials: New Trump anti-immigration rule is harshest yet

Changes to ‘public charge’ rule will favor the wealthy, keep families divided

By implementing a “wealth test” and limiting the type of person eligible to stay in this country, the Trump Administration’s new “public charge” rule will do more to keep families separated than it will to discourage immigrants from using public benefits.

That’s the assessment of a number of experts, officials, advocates and lawyers who have called the rule the boldest anti-immigration move yet by the Trump Administration. Advocacy groups are already promising legal challenges and the city of San Francisco filed a lawsuit today, even though the rule won’t go into effect until Oct. 15.

“Public charge” is a term that refers to immigrants who the government believes will rely on public assistance for help. The new rule expands the definition of who would be considered a public charge so that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can “ensure applicants [for lawful admission to the country] are self-sufficient,” according to the 837-page document.[Read more…]

5. Correction officials relent to pressure, permit transfer of transgender inmate

Numerous questions remain, however, about the treatment of dozens of other trans inmates

Kanautica Zayre-Brown made history Thursday.

When the Department of Public Safety moved her from Warren Correctional Institution in Manson to Anson Correctional Institution in Polkton, she became the first transgender prisoner in North Carolina to be transferred from a prison designated for one gender to one designated for another.

What will become of the dozens of other transgender people now held in North Carolina’s prisons is, however, far from clear.[Read more…]

6. In N.C., the last days of gerrymandering can’t come too soon

Today we wait.

We wait for the judges, who retired to their chambers weeks ago in the Common Cause v. Lewis case, a case that asserts political gerrymandering is a betrayal of the “equal protection” provision of the North Carolina constitution.

We wait for a remedy for more than half of the state’s voters who should not feel equally protected today, those who, in 2018, did not vote for the Republican Party but found themselves, against all logic, in thrall to a dominant GOP anyway.

We wait for a decision in what will be, surely, one of the most important judicial rulings of our lifetimes, if not the most important decision in the lifetime of North Carolina’s still nascent democracy.

We wait for a resolution to a gerrymandering case that may, if decided correctly, restore a most basic expectation of our leaders as Americans: the expectation that they will leave.[Read more…]

7. Several members of Lumbee tribe, climate coalition ask DEQ to revoke Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit; EPA proposes to clamp down on states’ authority

While the Trump administration proposed rules to strip states of some authority to reject natural gas pipelines, opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline petitioned state regulators to revoke the water quality permit for the controversial project.

“We asked the department to consider the new information in the petition today,” said Donna Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County and Friends of the Earth, during a press conference at the legislature. “The cumulative impacts are worse than previously thought. We urge DEQ to reconsider its decision. We believe they want to do what is right.”

The ACP would run more than 160 miles in eastern North Carolina from Northampton County to Robeson County, which has the largest community of American Indians east of the Mississippi River. [Read more…]

8. Ban weapons of war. Now.

Thirty-two seconds.

That’s how long it took for the madman responsible for the carnage in Dayton, Ohio to shoot 26 people, killing nine, including his sister, and wounding 17 more before he was killed by police.

According to CNN, the Dayton shooter (he will not be identified here) was armed with a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines. As USA Today reports, the “AR” variants used in Dayton and the El Paso killing that claimed 22 lives barely 24 hours earlier, were legal, as were the high-capacity magazines employed in the shootings. [Read more…]

9. Policy Watch podcasts

Click here for the latest commentaries and newsmaker interviews with Rob Schofield

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary

A pediatrician’s appeal to legislators: Expand Medicaid now.

As the stalemate over the state budget tips into another week, legislators might want to take a few minutes and read the recent column in the Winston Salem Journal by Dr. Callie Brown, a general pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. Brown makes the moral and economic case for expanding Medicaid and helping North Carolina’s infants and toddlers whose parents are uninsured or simply do not earn enough to purchase private health insurance. Here’s an excerpt from her guest column:

I recently cared for Sofia, a premature infant, in clinic. Sofia stayed in the NICU with health complications costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sofia’s mother had no prenatal care because she didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford out-of-pocket costs for prenatal visits. She worked as a child care provider at a small day care that didn’t provide health insurance to employees. Her pre-tax income of $50,000 is over the 200% poverty level threshold required for N.C. Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women. She could not afford to buy Affordable Care Act health insurance, which would have cost approximately $1,000 a month, leaving insufficient funds for rent, transportation, food, child care and daily living expenses. Lack of health insurance for Sofia and her mother resulted in cascading negative consequences: a premature birth with possible adverse neurodevelopmental issues for the child; likely additional costs to schools to fund special education needs; loss of work time for the mother to attend to more frequent visits to the doctor; and gigantic hospital costs.

States that have expanded Medicaid have demonstrated improvements in the health of women of childbearing age. These women have increased access to preventive care, improved health outcomes before, during and after their pregnancies, and reduced maternal mortality rates. These states have also seen improvement in the health outcomes for infants, including declines in infant mortality. This is especially relevant here in North Carolina, where 9.2% of babies are born at a low birth weight (compared to 8.2% nationwide) and the infant mortality rate is 7.3 per 1000 live births (compared to 5.9 nationwide).

Additionally, we know that parents are more likely to enroll their Medicaid-eligible children when they have health insurance coverage themselves. Children whose parents receive Medicaid insurance are also about 30% more likely to receive regular check-ups and necessary preventive care. Receiving consistent health care is especially essential for young children, as it sets them on a path of healthy growth and development.

I commonly see families in clinic in which one parent is struggling with depression or another mental illness. This can impact their ability to take the best possible care of their children. Mothers struggling with post-partum depression are often not able to bond with their infant, breastfeed successfully or care for their child adequately. Parents with untreated mental health problems are often unable to provide their infant, toddler or school-age child with the nurturing environment their child needs for optimal growth and development.

I also frequently see uninsured families who experience financial strain over medical bills. When health crises arise, this can quickly result in debt and financial distress. When parents are going through periods of stress, children feel the adverse effects as well. Children who experience poverty and trauma early in their life can have impaired brain development, negatively impacting their ability to learn, physical health, and emotional well-being.

Additionally, parents not currently working are better positioned to search for and retain new jobs if they have access to health care. Stable employment reduces financial stress on the entire family, providing a financially secure environment for children and lessening their exposure to poverty.

The health of parents and their children are interconnected. To improve the health of both, North Carolina must utilize available federal funding to expand access to health insurance for North Carolinians. As a pediatrician, my goal is to improve the physical, social and emotional well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. One of the most important ways that our community can help to do this is to call on legislators in North Carolina to improve health care access and close the coverage gap, as 37 other states have done.

Investing in the health of children — and their parents — is both the economically sound and morally wise path for North Carolina.

You can read Dr. Brown’s full column here.