Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson: Educators who bring political ideology into classrooms fail students

Mark Robinson

Educators who can’t put political opinions aside in the classroom fail students, according to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

Robinson, a Republican and the state’s first black lieutenant governor, made the statement Tuesday during a news conference to announce a new taskforce he created to end what he calls political indoctrination of students in schools.

“I don’t want right wing political ideology to be put in the classroom any more than I do left hand [politics],” Robinson said.

Robinson shared an example of what he considers to be student indoctrination. A teacher told a student that she couldn’t submit a Black History Month report on Robinson, he said.

The teacher suggested that the student report about deceased rapper Tupac Shakur instead, Robinson said.

“That’s indoctrination,” Robinson said. “That is exactly what we are talking about. Simply because she didn’t like my politics or because she doesn’t like me. I have no idea what the issue was.”

The lieutenant governor said he aspires to one day become an educator.

“If I go into the classroom and I can’t put my opinion aside long enough to go inside the classroom and give impressionable young minds just the facts without my opinion, I have failed as an educator. That’s the commitment that I want from all our teachers and that’s the commitment we get from most of them. Unfortunately, all of them are not following that protocol and we are receiving those complaints about that.”

The taskforce titled “Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students” (F.A.C.T.S.) will receive complaints from parents, students and others about perceived bias, inappropriate material or indoctrination they see or experience in schools through a portal on Robinson’s website.

“This is not an indictment on education,” Robinson insisted. “The vast majority of our teachers in this state and in the nation are good. They go to work; they work hard, and they are there for the benefit of the students and parents that they are serving.”

Parents do complain, however, that children are taught subject matter that runs counter to parents’ beliefs, Robinson said.

“We call it indoctrination, but it could be called many things,” Robinson said. “It could be called politicizing the classroom. It could be called introducing things into the classroom that don’t belong there.”

The state has never had a place to compile, study and to address such complaints, Robinson said.

“That’s what we’re seeking to do with this task force,” he said. “We want this task force to be a resource for parents and students who feel they are unable to tackle the issues they are facing in their schools.”

He said parents and teachers are afraid to challenge school boards, principals and administrators on such matters.

“Folks, that has got to stop,” Robinson said. “School is supposed to be a safe place where people can go for the purpose of instruction.”

Several F.A.C.T.S. members joined Robinson’s press conference Tuesday, including State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine.

As lieutenant governor, Robinson serves on the state board. He and Oxendine, the board’s only Native American member, were among the most vocal opponents of new state social studies standards that direct educators to include diverse voices when teaching history and social studies courses.

Robinson complained that the new standards are “political in nature” and unfairly portray America as “systemically racist.”

State Sen. Kevin Corbin, a Republican from Macon County and State Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican, agreed to serve on the task force.

Willis said he’s a product of the state’s public schools from preschool through college.

“I don’t recall a point in time when I knew any or my teachers’ or my professors’ political views, their party affiliations,” Willis said. “It was never relevant to what we were there for. We were there to learn how to read and write and be prepared for a career, and I think we’ve strayed from that over the last several years.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to create task force to root out ‘indoctrination’ of students in schools

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson

Last month, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson made strident arguments against adoption of new state social studies standards that he said are “political in nature” and unfairly portray America as “systemically racist.”

The State Board of Education approved the new standards despite Robinson’s objection. The standards direct educators to include diverse perspectives in history lessons. Schools will begin using the new standards in the fall.

Robinson, a Republican from Greensboro and the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, isn’t finished fighting against what he says is the indoctrination of children by liberal educators.

He announced Monday that he will create a new task force titled “Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students” (F.A.C.T.S.) to give students, teachers and parents a “voice to speak out about cases of bias, inappropriate material, or indoctrination they see or experience in public schools.”

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Robinson said the task force will be made up of education professionals.

“It [the task force] will seek to compile and assess legitimate reports from across the state, assist those who need help navigating the bureaucratic process surrounding education, and provide a platform to disseminate information regarding indoctrination in public schools,” Robinson said.

The lieutenant governor has scheduled a press conference to discuss the task force Tuesday at 2 p.m., on the front steps of Hawkins Hartness House at 310 N. Blount Street in Raleigh.

Gov. Roy Cooper signs Senate Bill 220 requiring school districts to offer in-person instruction

 Gov. Roy Cooper

This story has been updated

Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 220 requiring school districts to offer in-person instruction to K-12 students.

SB 220 (The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021) was introduced by Republican and Democratic lawmakers Wednesday as a compromise to what had become a contentious, partisan disagreement over when and how to reopen schools for in-person instruction.

“Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies,” Cooper said in a statement late Thursday.

The law requires districts to provide in-person instruction for students in grades K-5 under the state’s Plan A, requiring minimal social distancing.

Students in grades 6-12 would attend school either under Plan A, Plan B requiring six feet of social distancing or both.

Plan A must also be offered to students who have an Individualized Education Program or a 504 plan, which covers any condition that limits students from participating in daily activities.

Sen. Deanna Ballard, (R-Watauga), sponsored the bill.

The compromise to reopen schools for in-person instruction comes nearly a year after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered them closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many students have struggled in remote learning and parents have pushed lawmakers to reopen schools for in-person learning.

This week, William Chadwick, a senior at East Carteret High School, told lawmakers that his mental health and physical health have been tested while he’s been in remote learning.

Academically, Chadwick said it’s difficult to find a rhythm. He thinks being in school five days a week would help all students.

“I’ve got a balanced home life, so I’m able to have that support at home, but think about the kids who don’t have that and are still struggling and not making the grades,” Chadwick said.

The NC Association of Educators (NCAE) criticized the legislation Wednesday.

“This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with CDC guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.

Last month, Cooper strongly urged school districts to move to in-person instruction.

Cooper vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would require school districts to provide families a full-time, in-person option. The governor argued that Senate Bill 37 didn’t follow state and federal guidance around social distancing. He also complained that it stripped districts of flexibility to change course if there are spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Republicans’ attempt to override Cooper’s veto was narrowly defeated.

Democrats, Republicans reach compromise on reopening schools

Gov. Roy Cooper

After weeks of contentious debate, state Democrats and Republicans came to a meeting of the minds Wednesday on a plan to more fully reopen North Carolina’s public schools.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation today. The House could also take the bill up as early as today. The goal is for the bill to become law as soon as possible.

“This compromise bill represents an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to all agree on a process moving forward,” House Speaker Tim Moore, (R-Cleveland), said during a press conference.

The legislation will take effect 21 days after it’s signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

“With the track that it looks like it’s on, that means it’s probably around April 1,” Cooper said.

The legislation requires elementary schools to open under the state’s Plan A. That plan calls for in-person instruction, five days a week.

Meanwhile, middle schools and high schools could open under either Plan A or Plan B.

Districts must follow state and federal guidelines under Plan B, so many of them have split older students into cohorts. Each cohort attends school for in-person instruction two days a week in order to observe social distancing guidelines.

Senate Leader Phil Berger

To open middle schools and high schools under Plan A, districts must notify the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and share their plan to reopen schools full-time for older students.

“The purpose here is to provide for consultation,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham).

Berger noted that NCDHHS would not have the authority to veto a district’s move to Plan A. Cooper, however, would have the authority to close a district to in-person instruction, but only on a district-by-district basis, he said.

“A local district will also retain the authority to close a school or a classroom in the event of an outbreak,” Berger said.

The NC Association of Educators (NCAE) quickly criticized the legislation. The teacher advocacy group has said that districts must require six feet of social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for all teachers and students to return to classrooms safely.

“This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with CDC guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.

Tamika Walker Kelly

Walker Kelly said educators will watch closely to see if lawmakers’ professed concern about the well-being of students is reflected in the state budget.

“If the social and emotional needs of students are as important a priority to legislative leaders as their comments suggested today, we are looking forward to the immediate reversal of the decade of declining funding for school counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and teacher assistants,” she said. “Anything less would lay bare the partisan hypocrisy of justifying a politically expedient return [to] in-person instruction with the emotional needs of our own students.”

The new legislation requires districts that move middle school students and high school students to Plan A to partner with the ABC Science Collaborative so researchers can collect and analyze data from those districts.

Researchers from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill make up the Science Collaborative. Last year, the group evaluated secondary transmission of COVID-19 in 11 North Carolina school districts and found transmissions in those schools much lower than the rate of community spread. Read more

14 counties seek authority to require schools to reopen, full-time for in-person instruction

School districts in 14 counties have signed on to House Bill 90, which would allow them the option of providing in-person instruction five-days a week to middle school and high school students.

Currently, students in grades 6-12 can only attend school under the state’s Plan B, which requires six feet of social distancing. To achieve that, districts split students into two cohorts. Each cohort receives face-to-face instruction two days a week.

Rep. Pat McElraft, (R-Carteret), the HB 90 sponsor, told colleagues Tuesday that children are struggling academically and suffering emotionally and mentally in remote learning.

“There’s more drug addiction now,” McElraft said. “There’s more kids getting into trouble. There’re more kids failing. Twenty percent of kids in this group of school districts are failing now.”

Pat McElraft

The district’s elementary school students have been safely attending school in-person, full-time since August, and so have students in the county’s charter schools and private schools, McElrath said.

There has been little transmission of the coronavirus, she said.

“Why can’t we do it in our public schools that we trust so much?” she asked. We’ve got to do this. We’re going to lose our children if we don’t.”

In addition to Carteret County Schools, HB 90 would apply to Beaufort County Schools, Brunswick County Schools, Cleveland County Schools, Craven County Schools, Granville County Schools, Haywood County Schools, Jones County Schools, McDowell County Schools, Mitchell County Schools, Onslow County Schools and Yancey County Schools.

HB 90 started out as a Carteret County-only bill but quickly grew to 14 counties. Fourteen is the limit to remain a local bill.

Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) was re-referred to the House Committee on Rules.

Rep. Cynthia Ball, (D-Wake), questioned the constitutionality of HB 90. Ball said the State Constitution prohibits local acts that relate to health, sanitation, and nuisance abatement. An earlier version of the bill referred to health guidance provided in StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12).

The PCS did not reference the Toolkit.

“There is nothing about the Toolkit in the bill at all,” McElrath said. “This is not a healthcare bill it’s an education bill.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

The House K-12 Committee’s discussion of HB 90 comes as Gov. Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-led General Assembly move toward a compromise on how to reopen schools, nearly one year after Cooper ordered them closed for in-person instruction.

Senate leader Phil Berger discussed the looming compromise during a press conference Tuesday. He told reporters that he and Cooper have had several phone conversations about fully reopening schools.

Meanwhile, Cooper acknowledged ongoing discussion with legislative leaders but would not hint at what a compromise might entail.

“I’ve been talking with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders and we are talking about the best way our students can get back into the classroom,” Cooper said. “I think we all share the goal of getting our children back to in-person in the classroom.”

School reopening has been one of the most contentious issues in the long session, even though Democrats and Republicans agree that students are better off academically, socially and emotionally in school.

Senate Leader Phil Berger

Cooper vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would require school districts to provide families a full-time, in-person option. The governor argued that Senate Bill 37 didn’t follow state and federal guidance around social distancing. He also complained that it stripped districts of flexibility to change course if there are spikes in COVID-19 infections.

An attempt to override Cooper’s veto was narrowly defeated. Berger has threatened to bring SB 37 back for a second vote but told reporters Tuesday that if Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise on reopening schools, the bill would be moot.

HB 90 would also become unnecessary if lawmakers agree on a plan to reopen schools.

In the meantime, parents and students are growing increasingly frustrated with remote learning.

A group of Carteret County parents, students and educators traveled to Raleigh on Tuesday to share their experiences with lawmakers.

William Chadwick, a senior at East Carteret High School, told lawmakers that his mental health and physical health have been tested while he’s been in remote learning.

Academically, Chadwick said it’s difficult to find a rhythm. He thinks being in school five days a week would help all students.

“I’ve got a balanced home life, so I’m able to have that support at home, but think about the kids who don’t have that and are still struggling and not making the grades,” Chadwick said.

Clark Jenkins, chairman of the Carteret County Board of Education, said that his 14-year-old daughter, like thousands across the state, has struggled emotionally while in remote learning.

Jenkins said friends of his daughter reported that she was cutting herself.

“Fortunately, as a dad, I was able to get involved and get her help through the school, through the church and private practice,” Jenkins said. “My daughter represents thousands and thousands of kids in this state who are going through the same thing but don’t have me, don’t have the counselors and don’t have the churches. Please vote for this.”

Christine Hanks, the parent of a Carteret County Schools freshman, said the hybrid model used by older students doesn’t work.

“It sounds like it should be the best of both worlds, right? It’s a good compromise?” Hanks said. “What’s being compromised is our kids’ education and their health and well-being. We need our kids to be in school five days a week. Plan B is a band-aid on a gaping wound.”

Hanks said she trusts local school leaders to make good decisions.

“These are the people I trust, and I don’t take that lightly as a parent,” Hanks said. “I trust them to make the right decisions for my son and our students. They know our community best. They know our educators. They know our students, our schools.”