Education, Higher Ed, News, race

Darrell Allison, chair of Racial Equity Task Force, resigns from UNC Board of Governors

UNC Board of Governors member Darrell Allison abruptly resigned from the board last week, citing “personal reasons.”

In a letter to N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Allison called serving on the board a “high honor.”

“And while I am most confident that our UNC System will find its way trough the many challenges it currently faces, it must do so without my continued service on this board,” Allison wrote.

His resignation, effective September 23, creates a vacancy that must be filled by the N.C. General Assembly.

Allison, one of  just three voting Black members on the 24-member board, was tapped to chair the board’s Racial Equity Task Force, which began meeting in July. The task force and its work were personally important to Allison, who in his resignation letter cited his undergraduate education at North Carolina Central University and said his work on the board has allowed him to “work hard in supporting and advocating for many of our historically minority-serving institutions, and our other smaller institutions which comprise our System with genuine knowledge of need and concern.”

At its first meeting the task force heard a report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey results that found the system falling below its benchmarks. In fact, the results were worse than those from 2018.

When the task force was launched, board Chairman Randy Ramsey and UNC System Interim President Bill Roper made a strong statement about the importance of its work in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the movement for reform that followed.

“George Floyd died a horrible, violent, and unjust death at the hands of a white police officer,” Ramsey and Roper wrote in the statement. “This immoral and indefensible act cries out for justice and compels all of us fully to recognize and grapple with our country’s history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence. As members of the University community, it is our obligation and responsibility to do the hard work needed to address inequities in the UNC System for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and all North Carolinians.”

Darrell Allison, UNC Board of Governors member and Chairman of the board’s Racial Equity Task Force.

Since then Republican sentiment on race equity work has turned sharply negative at the state and national level — particularly with regard to the “history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence” Ramsey and Roper cited.

Earlier this month President Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to schools that teach The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project. He also had the federal Office of Management and Budget prohibit departments from use of federal funds for executive branch staff training that includes critical race theory and the concept of white privilege as a component of systemic racism in the history of the United States and in contemporary life. That ban was later expanded to include federal contractors.

“Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors,” an executive order on the matter read.

“Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t there’s nothing in it for you!” Trump tweeted on the decision.

Trump reiterated his opposition to race equity and racial sensitivity training in Tuesday night’s debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“They were teaching people to hate our country, that it’s a horrible place, it’s a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country,” Trump said. “And I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

Allison, who is politically unaffiliated, is one of just five members on the 24-member board who is not a registered Republican. There are no registered Democrats on the board.

Allison is heavily involved with issues and campaigns important to the GOP, however. He is past president of school choice advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina and was on the North Carolina steering committee for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid.

On Thursday Ramsey released a written statement thanking Allison for his service.

“I would like to thank Darrell Allison for his valued and thoughtful service on this Board, particularly as Chair of the Racial Equity Task Force and the Committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions,” Ramsey said. ” Darrell is a passionate advocate for public higher education and the entire UNC System and he we will be missed. I’m also confident Reggie Holley will continue to advance the important work of the Racial Equity Task Force and build upon the accomplishments of the HMSI Committee formerly under Darrell’s leadership.”

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State Chancellor: Student COVID-19 death should inspire “a common call to action” on safety

Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts addressed the COVID-19 related death of a student in a statement to the university community late Tuesday.

As Policy Watch reported this week, 19-year-old sophomore Chad Dorrill died of complications due to the virus Monday night.

Everts’ message broke the news to those in the community who were not yet aware and asked for continued caution as the pandemic continues and cases climb at App State.

It also pointed out that Dorrill lived off-campus in Boone and took classes online.

From Everts’ message:

The hearts of the entire Appalachian Community are with Chad’s family and loved ones during this profoundly difficult and painful time. Tributes shared by friends and loved ones show the positive impact Chad had on the communities he loved and called home, which included App State and Boone.

Chad’s family has shared he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month and suffered from later complications. Chad lived off-campus in Boone and all of his classes were online. When he began feeling unwell earlier this month, his mother encouraged him to come home, quarantine, and be tested for COVID-19.

After testing positive for COVID-19 in his home county, he followed isolation procedures and was cleared by his doctor to return to Boone. It was after his return to Boone that he had additional complications, was picked up by his family and hospitalized. His family’s wishes are for the university to share a common call to action so our entire campus community recognizes the importance of following COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines.

Despite generally being at lower risk for severe illness, college-age adults can become seriously ill from COVID-19. As we approach the halfway mark to the last day of classes for the Fall semester, we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in students. We have stringent cleaning and safety protocols in place on campus, and our students, faculty and staff are following the 3Ws by wearing face coverings, maintaining 6 feet of distance from one another and washing and sanitizing their hands and work stations. All of us must remain vigilant with our safety behaviors wherever we are in our community. We can flatten the curve, but to do so, we must persevere. From the smallest acts to the most important personal relationships, we must actively work each day to reduce the spread of this highly communicable disease.

Remember that gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors, and that in those settings, it is still critically important to maintain distance and wear face coverings. The university and the Town of Boone are enforcing these restrictions, and each of us must take seriously our personal responsibility as well. With grace and with kindness, let’s help one another to follow these important safety precautions. Information about prevention and testing options is available on the university’s coronavirus website, where we also post the weekly campus email updates.

Please know there are many resources to help you cope with grief and stress as well as to provide you with support in a confidential setting. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please reach out.

In condolences to his family, many have shared their memories of Chad and said, “I wear my mask for Chad.” Please let us all honor Chad and his contributions by taking care of ourselves and our community.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State student dies of COVID-19 complications

Chad Dorrill, a 19-year-old sophomore at Appalachian State University, died Monday night of COVID-19 complications.

“As our family suffers this incredible loss, we want to remind people to wear a mask and quarantine if you test positive even without symptoms,” Dorrill’s family said in a statement Tuesday. “You have no idea who you can come in contact with that the virus affects differently. Chad was just incredibly tired for two weeks and little did we know it was secretly attacking his body in a way they have never seen before. The doctors said that Chad is the rarest 1-10,000,000 case but if it can happen to a super healthy 19-year-old boy who doesn’t smoke, vape, or do drugs, it can happen to anyone.”

Dorrill was a basketball player and Exercise Science major.

ASU had issued no official statement on his death as of Tuesday afternoon.

Davidson County Schools Superintendent Emily Lipe and the Piedmont Pacers basketball team both issued statement about Dorrill, who was a graduate of Ledford High School in Thomasville.

““His quiet, soft-spoken demeanor belied a fierce competitor on the basketball court whose relentless hustle and shooting prowess helped win many games for the Pacers,” the Piedmont Pacers team said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Chad finished as the Pacers’ all-time leading scorer and was a member of the 2018 USSSA National Championship team.”

“Chad Dorrill was a loved and well-respected member of the Ledford community and the Class of 2019,” Lipe said in her statement.  “He was an All-Conference basketball player during his years at LHS, who was both competitive and kind. He was enrolled at Appalachian State University in hopes of becoming a physical therapist. Our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy is extended to Chad’s family, friends, and the entire Ledford community.”

Appalachian State has recorded 167 new COVID-19 cases over the last week, all among students.

On Tuesday alone the school reported 46 cases.

Late Tuesday UNC System President Peter Hans issued a statement on Dorrill’s death.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy, but the grief cuts especially deep as we mourn a young man who had so much life ahead,” Hans said in the written statement. “I ache for the profound sadness that Chad Dorrill’s family is enduring right now. My heart goes out to the entire Appalachian State community.”

“Our country is grappling with this continuing crisis on a scale that is difficult to comprehend,” Hans said in the statement. “That does not diminish the acute pain we feel alongside Chad’s parents, family, and friends, the people whose loss is personal and irreplaceable.”

“Chad’s family asked that this moment stand as a stark reminder of how Covid-19 is deadly serious for all of us, even for otherwise healthy young adults.,” Hans said. “We have a heightened duty to one another in these extraordinarily trying times, and we all need to remain vigilant. I join his family and Chancellor Everts in urging everyone to follow public health guidance by wearing a mask, washing hands, maintaining physical distance, and limiting gatherings.”


State Board of Education aligns policies with law to distribute $40 million in federal coronavirus aid

The State Board of Education (SBE)  made several moves Monday to align board policy with House Bill 1105 to pave the way for the distribution of nearly $40 million in federal CARES ACT dollars to help local school districts mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HB 1105, also known as the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Sept. 4. The $1.1 billion relief package provides a one-time payment of $335 to families with a child under the age of 18 to help offset unexpected costs related to school closures.

On Monday, the SBE focused on schools that have reopened or are planning to reopen for in person instruction in the wake of Cooper’s decision to allow districts to bring K-5 students back for in person instruction beginning Oct. 5.

The lion’s share of the $40 million — $27 million — is intended to help school districts buy personal protective equipment for staff and students.

The move comes as some districts, including the state’s largest in Wake County, prepare to send children back into classrooms for in person learning. The Wake County Board of Education will consider today whether to bring students back for limited in-person instruction beginning Oct. 26.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction will distribute the money for personal protective equipment using a formula based on average daily membership (ADM) and one that incorporates whether districts have students in schools for in person learning. Districts that do will receive larger shares of the money.

Here’s how the formula will work:

  • A school district operating in Phase B (a mix of remote and in person instruction) on September 1 will receive three times above the amount it would receive based on ADM if it only offered remote learning.
  • A school district operating in Phase A/B (full time for K-5 and a mix of in person and remote learning for 6-12) on Oct. 5 will receive 2.5 times more money based on ADM than if it only offered remote learning.
  • A school district operating in Phase A/B full time for K-5 and a mix of in person and remote learning for 6-12) on Oct. 26 will receive 2 times more money based on ADM than if it only offered remote learning.
  • Districts only providing remote learning (Phase C) will receive one equal share.

SBE vice Chairman Alan Duncan said a board committee struggled to develop a formula to fairly distribute the money for personal protective equipment.

Duncan said districts that have been in school under Phase B (a mix of in person and remote learning) need more help purchasing personal protective equipment than those that only provides remote learning.

He said he knows of at least one district that reopened under Phase B that has already gone through its annual disinfectant budget.

“We think this is as fair as it can be under all the circumstances with the circumstances being imperfect at best,” Duncan said.

The second largest share of money — $10 million – will help districts buy devices that allow students to connect to remote learning. HB 1105 authorized the additional $10 million on top of $11 million already allocated. Districts that still need devices must apply for shares of the money.

“Some public school units have no additional needs and some do, so the recommendation is to allocate that out to where the needs continue to be,” said Alexis Schauss, chief business officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

HB 1105 also authorized $1 million for Alamance Burlington Schools for school nutrition services, transportation services, technology, remote instruction materials and services, personal protective equipment, temperature screening tools, Alamance-Burlington Connects Initiative, and other goods and services necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law authorized $500,000 based on ADM to Bertie County, Camden County, Chowan County, Perquimans County, Tyrrell County, Washington County for school nutrition services, transportation services, technology, remote instruction materials and services and personal protective equipment.

It also authorized $1.1 million for Communities in Schools of North Carolina, Inc to use for personal protective equipment. It can also be used to help K-12 students with remote instruction, nutrition, family support and mental health issues.

Meanwhile, Mount Airy City Schools is set to receive $115,000 under the law to establish the Smart School Bus Safety Pilot Program.


Wake poised to vote on returning students to in-person instruction

The Wake County Board of Education will meet this evening at 6:00pm to vote on when the state’s second largest school district should return to in-person classroom instruction.

The proposal before the board would have PreK-5th grade students and special-education students resuming in-person learning as early as Oct. 26th on a three-week rotation. Older students (6th-12th grade) would return on November 9th following the same rotation.

A detailed explanation of the WCPSS’s plan can be found here.

Neighboring Durham Public Schools made the decision last week to stick with online learning through mid-January.

Understandably, some educators are nervous about the move.

Click below to listen to our recent interview with NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly on the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the return to in-person instruction:

New cases of COVID-19 dropped to 868 on Monday with a positivity rate of 5.3%.

Eleven percent of the state’s overall COVID cases have been in children under age 17.