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
Education

State Board of Education, districts must adopt mental health policy under new law

Gov. Roy Cooper

The State Board of Education must adopt a school-based mental health policy under Senate Bill 476, signed into law Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The law also requires school districts to adopt and implement a plan that includes a mental health training program for staff and the development of a suicide risk referral protocol.

“The mental health of our students has never been more important, and this legislation encourages that support,” Cooper said in a statement. “We still need to invest more in school nurses and counselors.”

School counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses expect students to return to schools in mid-August needing more of their services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Cooper to close school buildings in March.

School districts across the nation shifted to remote learning in response to the contagious and deadly coronavirus that has claimed more than 113,000 lives in the U.S.

The mental health policy adopted by the state must include minimum requirements for a school-based mental health policy for K-12 schools in addition to a training program and a suicide risk referral protocol.

The training must cover the following topics:

  • Youth mental health
  • Suicide prevention
  • Substance abuse
  • Sexual abuse prevention
  • Sex trafficking prevention
  • Teenage dating violence

Suicide prevention training is required of school personnel who work with students in grades 6-12. They must learn to identify students at risk of suicide and procedures to refer them to mental health professionals.

The law has no funding attached.

Bill co-sponsor Deanna Ballard, (R-Wataugua), said last month that the SBE and districts have flexibility in how they provide training.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, (R-Guilford), warned then that the law will impose an unfunded mandate on school districts.

“That cost will not be minimum,” Tillman said. “When you undertake training of this nature and this magnitude, there will be quite a bit of cost, which is an unfunded mandate on the school boards unless we can find some COVID-19 money to help with this.”

Education

Are charter schools the answer to systemic racism in public schools? Or, are they the problem?

Charter schools are “uniquely positioned” to address the systemic racism and inequities that plague America’s system of public education, says Alex Quigley, chairman of the North Carolina’s Charter School Advisory Board.

“Charter schools are inherently disruptive to a longstanding system of education that has historically failed low-income children of color,” Quigley said. “It’s been over 65 years since Brown vs. Board of Education and our system of education has arguably made marginal progress ensuring that children receive a high-quality education regardless of their zip code.”

Quigley, a Durham charter school principal, made his comments Monday during a CSAB meeting.

He said the quality of school a child attends often depends on how much their parents can afford to spend on a house.

That, he said, creates a “de facto system of school segregation based on income, and most often race.”

CSAB Chairman Alex Quigley

“Even black and brown children who have the economic means to purchase a more expensive house or are bussed into ‘better schools’ that are majority white are forced to attend schools dominated by a predominately white suburban power structure in favor of integration only as long as they remain the majority and retain control,” Quigley said.

Roughly 116,000 of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students attend charter schools. That’s about 7.6% of the state’s public school enrollment. White students account for 54% of charter school enrollment while blacks make up 26 % percent of students enrolled in charters. Hispanics are the next largest group charter school students at 10.7%.

Quigley said charter schools offer parents of color power and choice, which they’ve historically been denied.

“Why should parents who lack economic means not be able to choose where their children go to school?” Quigley asked. “Choice shouldn’t be a privilege; it should be a right, but it can’t happen unless we ensure excellent schools of choice abound.”

He said that when parents choose charters, the transfer of power is immediate.

“So, parents don’t have to wait for another 65 years for the government to attempt to solve seemingly intractable issues such as income inequality before their kids can go to a decent school,” Quigley said.

DPS Board of Education Member Natalie Beyer

Natalie Beyer, a member of the Durham Public School’s Board of Education and outspoken critic of charter schools, challenged Quigley’s remarks.

“In North Carolina, charter schools are unfortunately not a valid policy tool to address racism and social justice concerns,” Beyer said. “Rather due to minimal state oversight, charter schools tend to be more racially isolated than local public schools and over time have led to ongoing issues of resegregation.”

Beyer added that charter schools have become a way for white and affluent families to “opt out of their local public schools, which has led to further disinvestment and underfunding.”

Quigley started Monday’s meeting by addressing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic  and the civil unrest that has gripped the nation since George Floyd died in police custody 14 days ago.

A chilling video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee planted lethally on Floyd’s neck sparked outrage across the nation and throughout the world.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Three other officers on the scene are also charged in Floyd’s death. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng each face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

“I’m compelled to not be silent on the issue of racism, white privilege and the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Their lives mattered. Black lives matter,” Quigley said.

Arbery was shot to death while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. Police arrested Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael in the death, and charged them with murder and aggravated assault. Meanwhile, Taylor was killed during an errant “no-knock” drug search warrant. Her family has sued Louisville police officers, accusing them of  “wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence.”

“The grief, pain, trauma and hearing the anger that people of color feel right now in our country and have felt for hundreds of years, is real,” Quigley said. “It’s not something that I have the capacity to fully understand, but I will continue to work, listen and learn from my colleagues of color.”

Floyd’s death has led to much discussion about how systemic racism impacts people of color. State education leaders have pledged to find ways to better serve children of color who often fall at or near the bottom in measurements of academic achievement but are disciplined at higher rates than their white counterparts.

“Like COVID-19, which is seemingly invisible, which can be carried, transmitted and received unknowingly, inequity and racism are in the air we breathe,” State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said last week. “And like COVID-19, we must first mitigate its spread and ultimately vaccinate ourselves and remove it from our society.”

Quigley outlined steps the board can take to begin to address systemic racism in the state’s charter school movement. Those include more closely scrutinizing charter applicants to ensure they act in good faith in dealings with low-income families of color.

“We must challenge the motivation and the integrity of boards that promise to serve low-income students of color but have no plans for free lunch, no intention to provide transportation or provide no data to support the rationale in their plans,” Quigley said.

CSAB member Cheryl Turner said there have been times when the board has not adequately addressed racism. “I think that we have to hold people highly accountable,” said Turner, a Charlotte charter school leader. “I think that schools that go on for years and years and years teaching black and brown kids and are low performing forever and ever is a tragedy and we can’t allow that to happen.”

Turners said CSAB must set standards. “There is no reason there should be an achievement gap that has lasted for decades,” Turner said. “That can’t be about the children because there’s nothing wrong with the children. That’s about us.”

Quigley wants the Office of Charter Schools to establish a program to recruit and develop charter school leaders of colors who can take leadership roles when vacancies arise. He warned his colleagues to be careful to not fall into the trap of setting low expectations for charters because they serve black kids, English learners or poor kids.

“Across the country, we see a movement to strip away standards and accountability in schooling to focus more on socio-emotional learning, the whole child and curing poverty rather than holding those charged with educating children accountable for actually doing their jobs.”

News

House Democrats want Republicans to set aside differences to attack systemic racism

House Democrats held a remote press conference Friday to address systemic racism.

Democratic lawmakers on Friday called on Republican colleagues to set aside partisanship to address systemic racism in the judicial system and stubborn health, educational and economic disparities that cripple African American communities.

“Education ought not to be partisan as we all ought to want all of our students to be educated,” said House Democratic Whip Amos Quick, (D-Guilford).

Quick said the American promise is that if you get a good education and apply yourself, then you will have success.

“However, this promise has been rendered a cruel hoax for too many bright African American students who endure substandard education through no fault of their own,” Quick said. “Dilapidated buildings and funding formula tricks make it still possible to go into any city or town in North Carolina and visibly identify schools that are mostly populated by African American students.”

Quick noted that African Americans are 22 % of the state’s population but make up 35 % of COVID-19 related deaths.

He said we can no longer tolerate health care disparities.

“Why should skin color and zip code determine quality of life and even the length of life for many of our citizens,” Quick said. “It cannot be acceptable any longer that African American North Carolinians have to endure an absence of quality health care and nearby facilities.”

Quick made his comments during a remote news conference.

Lawmakers also honored the memory of George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died in police custody a week ago. Floyd was born in North Carolina. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday in Hoke County.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, (D-Wake), called Floyd’s death a national tragedy that highlights the disparate treatment blacks receive at the hand of law enforcement officers.

“Sixteen times he said he could not breathe, and no one listened,” Jackson said.

A chilling video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee planted lethally on Floyd’s neck sparked outrage across the nation and throughout the world.

Chauvin has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Three other officers involved in the incident were arrested and charged Wednesday. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng each face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

“Of course, we cannot bring Mr. Floyd back but today we are here to listen,” Jackson said. “We’re here to honor his life and the lives of so many African Americans who lives were damaged, destroyed or lost before his.”

Jackson said Democratic lawmakers want to know how to better serve African Americans and how to ensure the American promise is extended to every African American child.

Rep. Robert Reives, (D-Chatham), a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, said citizens must have faith in the judicial system.

“Nothing is more important than believing in your justice system when it comes down to law enforcement,” Reives said.

He called on cities and counties to create “meaningful citizen review commission” to build trust with citizens.

“Each locality has a different need when it comes to that,” Reives said. “What’s needed in Charlotte for a review commission is different than what we’ll need here in Siler City, in Chatham County.”

He said there’s a lot of emphasis on training law enforcement officer but others in the judicial system need to better understand how their work impacts black communities.

“Think about what it means with our judges, with our magistrates, with our prosecutors, with our defense attorney,” Reives said. “All of us need training on how the judicial system affects African Americans and what we can do to lessen that affect and equalize that affect.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Yvonne Holley, (D-Wake), addressed housing and economic disparities.

She noted that many frontline workers are earning less than minimum wage while putting their lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you realize this and look at this, people are putting their lives at risk for us and they’re not making enough to live off of, much less support their families,” Holley said.

She said it’s morally wrong to pay black women less than white males for the same work.

“Unequal pay means less food on the table, missed health care appointments, fewer educational opportunities, fewer trips to the museum and poor access tp technology and broad band,” Holley said.

She said it’s no longer possible for a person making minimum wage to make ends meet.

“Minimum wage will not support one person even in the least expensive part of the state,” Holley said. “And year after year, minimum wage stays flat, while prices of everything goes up.”

She said African American workers also have less access to paid leave than their white counterparts.

“They cannot miss work for being sick,” she said. “They have to show up sick or leave their newborn children. The result is a less healthy community and a less well-off community.”

Holley also criticized the state’s unemployment policy.

“North Carolina is the worst state in the country to be an unemployed worker,” Holley said. “Our compensation levels are low, and we have an extremely short, 12-week duration of benefit period.”

Holley said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the black community in North Carolina especially hard.

She has filed bills to spend $100 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to help renters avoid eviction and $100 million to prevent foreclosures.

In addition, Holley said North Carolina must make a substantial investment in affordable housing, particularly in programs such as the Housing Trust Fund, which support the preservation and production of affordable housing and work to increase opportunities for families and individuals to access affordable homes.

Friday’s press conference came a day after Gov. Roy Cooper created a task force to address the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 is having on communities of color.

The task force honors Andrea Harris, who co-founded the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development in 1986. She served as president of the Durham-based organization for more than two decades. Harris died last month.

The Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force will address systematic disparities in North Carolina.

“I’m proud to have signed Executive Order No. 143 to address disparities in communities of color that are being highlighted and intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cooper said in a statement. “This virus is exploiting those inequalities and it’s up to us to do something about it.”

Education

Will safety guidelines for schools be recommendations or mandates?

Health and safety guidance for school reopening is coming next week.

Will it be a uniformed set of optional recommendations school districts may follow to keep students and staff safe as they return to school in mid-August?

Or, a requirement districts must follow?

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

Superintendent Mark Johnson said Thursday that early guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHSS) is more recommendation than mandate.

“While many have been expecting a defined list of requirements, it appears many of the substantive guidelines around social distancing and face coverings and remote learning may be more of recommendations,” Johnson said. “As Gov. [Roy] Cooper does put forth recommendations rather than requirements, I do expect North Carolina will see 115 unique plans for the 115 unique school districts we support.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina lost its first student to the coronavirus, a second grader in Durham who attended Creekside Elementary School.

According to media reports, Aurea Soto Morales died at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill on Monday.

Johnson noted her passing at Thursday’s remote meeting of the SBE.

“We’ve lost a student to COVID-19 this week, a second-grader,” Johnson said. “She’s about the age of my own daughter and I cannot fathom the pain the family must be going through right now.”

Johnson created a task force in April that has worked on plans to reopen schools safely. North Caroliona closed schools in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Johnson said the task force will work under the assumption that the guidelines coming from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will not be requirements.

“With that in mind, we’re not going to work on a one-size fit all approach,” Johnson said. “Instead, we will seek to offer a tool kit for districts to provide different levels of strategy that can be individualized to best support the decision-making of school leaders, on the ground in each district.”

State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis

The State Board of Education (SBE) will review and possibly approve health and safety guidelines for school reopening during a special meeting June. 11.

The guidelines will incorporate recommendations from the NCDHSS and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) in consultation with Gov. Cooper’s office, said SBE Chairman Eric Davis.

The SBE was scheduled to receive an update on health and safety guidelines at its meeting this week. The board removed the item from its agenda to consider additional information shared by superintendents, teachers and other stakeholders.

“It [the additional information] made it clear that there was an opportunity to improve the product we were working on in collaboration with our partners in the Department of Health and Human Services, and so we elected to continue to work on that document as the superintendents suggested,” Davis said.

Beverly Emory, deputy superintendent of district support, said NCDPI has worked closel with NCDHHS to develop a plan to keep students and school staffs safe when they return to school buildings in August.

“We have spent intense time with our partners at DHHS in what we would call feedback loop looking at guidance, revisiting it, trying to take a health perspective and medical expertise and weave into it the practicality of what that looks like in schools,” Emory said.

She said it’s important that school and health leaders speak with one voice when they share guidelines with school districts next week.

“We want to align what we release, because we only get one opportunity to do that, with NCDHSS guidance, so that it is easy to understand and interpret and that there was good flow between that [NCDHSS] guidance and operational guidance that will come from the department [NCDPI],” Emory said.

Education

State Board of Education takes on racism in response to civil unrest

State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis (Left) and SBE members James Ford (Right)

Racism is a “social pandemic” in conflict with the nation’s founding principle that “all are created equal,” State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said Wednesday.

Davis made his comments in response to ongoing civil unrest in American cities over the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer.

The chilling video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee planted lethally on Floyd’s neck has sparked outrage across the nation and throughout the world.

Chauvin was initially arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The murder charge was upgraded to second-degree on Wednesday.

Three other officers involved in the incident were also charged Wednesday. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng each face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

The fact that the three were not immediately charged in Floyd’s death has been a flashpoint for protesters nationwide who have taken to the streets for more than a week to voice anger over Floyd’s death and the deaths of myriad unarmed blacks killed by police.

Davis said the nation has suffered under the disease of systemic racism for far too long.

“Like COVID-19, which is seemingly invisible, which can be carried, transmitted and received unknowingly, inequity and racism are in the air we breathe,” Davis said. “And like COVID-19, we must first mitigate its spread and ultimately vaccinate ourselves and remove it from our society.”

Ridding the nation of racism will take more than a show of empathy toward those who suffer under its crushing weight, Davis added.

“It will take intentional, determined, relentless commitment and work from all of us, especially those of us who are white, in positions of power and leadership, to end the social pandemic,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was an emotional one for the board, which has made racial equity the center piece of its five-year strategic plan.

SBE member James Ford said the board must root out racism and inequity wherever it is found.

“We are duty-bound, not to personally absolve ourselves of allegations of racism, but to deliberately be anti-racists in our approach to our work, and that is to cleanse this institution of every vestige of white supremacy that exists,” Ford said.

Ford also said those “put off” by the destruction of property during protests over Floyd’s death are missing the point.

“I understand some of that recoiling, but speaking as a black person, to a people who once themselves were considered property, you’ve got to understand how that prioritization sounds to us,” Ford said.

He said we now have an opportunity to improve schools, build a better state and nation.

“We have to reconcile our foundational flaws before we move forward,” Ford said.

Matthew Bristow-Smith, the 2019 Principal of the Year from Edgecombe County who serves as an SBE adviser, said the state’s public schools can either perpetuate inequity and racism or “ameliorate and fix” systems that marginalize some children.

“While we’ve been looking this week at what’s been happening around the world, we must also look within and we must also look at us,” said Bristow-Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School “We’ve got to hold a critical lens, Mr. Chairman [Davis], not only to our society and to our schools but to ourselves as individuals. This can’t be a Black movement. It’s got to be a human movement.”

Bristow-Smith sobbed after mentioning Floyd’s name and also while calling the names ofBblack male SBE members and advisers.

Mariah Morris, reigning North Carolina Teacher of the Year, asked teachers to be conscious of bias that impedes the academic, social and emotional development of students.

“Let’s work to make sure we are not promoting any form of institutional or personal racism in our classrooms,” said Morris, now the innovation and special projects coordinator for Moore County Schools.

Tabari Wallace, the 2018 Principal of the Year and SBE adviser, noted that self-actualization— the act of achieving one’s full potential — sets atop Abraham Maslow’s five-tier model of human needs.

People of color are often prevented from reaching their full potential because they have difficulty meeting the basic needs defined in Maslow’s model due to systemic racism, Wallace said. The needs include food and water, safety, love and esteem, he said.

“How can you ever become self-actualized without obtaining all of those building blocks?” asked Wallace, the principal of West Craven High School.

SBE member J.B. Buxton reminded the board that it held its annual planning meeting on the N.C. A&T University campus where in 1960 four students set a powerful example by leading sit-ins to desegregate the lunch counter at the Woolworth department store.

“I do believe we stand on the shoulders of those students from A&T who were big enough to meet that moment in 1960, and now we have that challenge ourselves,” Buxton said.

SBE vice Chairman Alan Duncan offered this apology to board members and advisers of color:

“To my colleagues of color on this board and to the advisers on this board, I am sorry for the suffering that you and your brothers have endured over the lifetime of our country. I miss being with you, especially at a time like this and very much look forward to embracing you literally when we’re able to reunite in person.”