A Stanly County teacher has died due to complications from the coronavirus

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that John deVille is a social studies teacher in Macon County.

A third-grade teacher in Stanly County Schools (SCS) has died after contracting the coronavirus, forcing the school district to require third graders who received in person instruction at Norwood Elementary School last Wednesday and Thursday to quarantine through Oct. 9.

The teacher, Mrs. Julie Davis, 50, died Sunday. She had taught at Norwood two years.

Julie Davis

On Monday, Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins told the Stanly News & Press that Mrs. Davis did not contract the virus while working at the school.

It remained unclear late Monday how health officials know that Mrs. Davis did not contract the virus at work.

According to news accounts, Mrs. Davis self-quarantined after she started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on Sept. 25.

Parents of children in Davis’ class were notified on Sept. 29 that their children must quarantine for 14 days because of possible exposure to a staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The school district has operated under a mix of remote and in-person instruction since August.

In a statement posted on the district’s website, interim SCS Superintendent Vicki Calvert described Mrs. Davis, as an educator with a “well-deserved reputation as an inspirational teacher who was always seeking ways to support every student so that they were able to fulfill their potential.”

“Students absolutely loved being taught by Mrs. Davis,” Calvert said in a statement. “Her personality was infectious, and she brought joy into the lives of the students, staff, and community.”

Ms. Davis’ death was widely discussed among educators on social media, many of whom see it as validation of their concerns about returning to school for in-person instruction before the coronavirus is under control.

One teacher questioned whether Jenkins and other health department leaders can afford to be honest about virus-related matters due to political pressure from county commissioners.

“Is there any way to know for sure that the Stanly County Health Department isn’t making back to school recommendations based on pressure from their county commissioners to whom the leadership of the Stanly County Health Department is beholden for their positions?” asked John deVille, a social studies teacher in Macon County.

Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the NC Association of Educators, issued a statement Monday afternoon, calling Davis’ death “preventable.”

“It is absolutely clear that this was a completely preventable death,” Walker Kelly said. “Julie did not have to die in order for her to teach her students, nor should any of our educators have to make the decision between doing the jobs they love and risking their lives.”

Walker Kelly said health officials claim that Mrs. Davis didn’t contract the virus at work does not change her statement. She plans to discuss teacher safety during the COVID-19 pandemic “in the coming days and weeks.”

“But today, I simply ask that you hold the memory of Julie Davis close to your heart,” she said. “By all accounts she was a dedicated and passionate educator who wanted nothing more than to do right by her students, and we mourn her loss to our entire NCAE family.”

Walker Kelly noted that Mrs. Davis is the second known NCAE member to die due to the coronavirus. Teicher Patterson, a Halifax County Schools principal, died in July after battling the deadly virus.

Citing safety concerns due to the coronavirus, the NCAE asked teachers to lobby schools districts not to reopen elementary schools full time, for in person instruction. That directive came after Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month that districts  would have the option to return K-5 students to classrooms for in person instruction this month.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) on Monday reported 2.258 new COVID-19 cases across North Carolina.

According to NCDHSS, Stanly County has recorded 2,085 confirmed coronavirus cases and 56 deaths. Mrs. Davis lived nearby in Montgomery County where 1,067 confirmed cases and 34 deaths have been recorded.


Commentary, Education

Judge Howard Manning’s misguided views on education should also be retired

Retired Judge Howard Manning

Now-retired North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s chief claim to fame during a lengthy judicial career came from overseeing the landmark Leandro school funding case from 2000 to 2015. Over this period, Manning held several hearings, often scolding state officials for failing to provide North Carolina’s students with the education they are owed under our state constitution.

While these hearings helped highlight the state’s unwillingness to live up to its constitutional responsibilities, particularly for low-income students, the judge never placed concrete demands on state lawmakers. As a result, his hearings produced few tangible results for North Carolina’s students. Independent school experts concluded that this period moved our state “further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decision more than 20 years ago.”

Since Manning’s retirement, dramatic advancements in the Leandro case are bringing us much closer to a school system that meets the needs of our students. In 2017, the Leandro plaintiffs and the state agreed that North Carolina had been failing its children for far too long and that the state needed a clear, comprehensive plan. Judge David Lee appointed some of the nation’s leading education experts to develop the plan. Their report, referred to as the WestEd report, provided the state with the long-overdue roadmap of investments and reforms necessary to deliver a “sound basic education” to all.

As a result, the state is now better positioned to meet its constitutional obligations than we ever were when the case was led by Manning. We now know exactly what needs to be done. This information has invigorated stakeholders across the state who are now mobilizing to pressure the General Assembly to enact these long overdue measures.

Enter Howard Manning, who has emerged from a quiet retirement to offer a recent interview and an op-ed, where he expresses skepticism towards the court’s current approach and lauds a failed Republican program focusing on early-grade literacy. Republican leaders are now seizing upon Manning’s misinformed commentary to justify their own inaction and unwillingness to improve our schools.

Manning’s op-ed claims the answer to delivering a sound basic education to all students is not money, but “competent management” from principals and “effective teaching.” In other words, it’s not the General Assembly’s well-documented decade of austerity and incompetence that’s to blame, it’s those no-good teachers.

Manning’s view flies in the face of overwhelming academic research, our own history in North Carolina, and his own past views.

In recent years, research has shown conclusively that increases in state funding, particularly those brought about in school funding cases like Leandro, boost test scoresraise graduation ratesreduce the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration in adulthood, and improve intergenerational social mobility. Notably, almost all of these studies show that the benefits from state funding increases tend to be larger for Black students and students from families with low incomes (i.e., the very children who were systematically denied access to a sound, basic education while Manning oversaw Leandro).

We don’t only have to look to policy experts. Our own experiences in the 1980s and 1990s also show how smart increases in state investment can improve achievement and narrow opportunity gaps. A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute detailed how “North Carolina’s sustained investments over two eras of reform in the 1980s and the 1990s enabled it to become the first high-poverty Southern state to achieve above national norms and to make more progress in closing the achievement gap during the 1990s than any other state.”

There was a time not so long ago that Judge Manning himself understood that adequate funding is a necessary component of student success. Read more

COVID-19, Education, News

Monday numbers: A closer look at $39 million in CARES Act funds for public schools

Nearly $39 million in federal coronavirus relief money has been released by the State Board of Education, most of which will go to support exceptional children’s programs and to purchase online curricula to support blended learning —  a combination of in-person and virtual instruction.

The funds are part of $390 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES Act) that the state’s K-12 schools received to mitigate the financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Schools received 90% of the money directly; until last week, 10%, or $39 million had been held in reserve by the State Board of Education. 

Here’s how the $39 million in CARES funds will be spent: 

$75,000 –  to the Friday Institute to provide online teacher development about blended learning

$250,000 – for a pilot program to explore expanding internet connectivity in remote areas of the state

$4.5 million to low-performing, low-wealth school districts to help students academically succeed during the pandemic

$720,000 –for oversight of sub-grantee applications and budget review, technical assistance and monitoring to ensure spending complies with federal guidelines

$2.2 million to “ineligible, waived and underfunded charter schools” to ensure all public schools have access to CARES Act funds

$4.5 million –  to public schools to partner with community organizations to provide supervised care for students in pre-K through 8th grade who are without at-home supervision on remote learning days  

$10 million – for instructional support for students in exceptional children’s programs

$10.8 million – to school districts to access quality K-12 curricula for high-quality blended learning. 

$200,000 – for an external evaluation of the implementation and impact of NC CARES Act Funding. NC Department of Public Instruction will contract with the Friday Institute or UNC Greensboro SERVE Center   to conduct the evaluation. 

$1 million – for expanded partnerships with broadcast media to provide educational content to students at home. The money will also be used to continue educational programming developed by NC Department of Public Instruction and UNC-TV. 

$3.5 million – to school districts to buy Canvas software licenses. Canvas is a course management system that supports online learning and teaching.   

$322,941 —for professional development for K-12 leaders 

$325,000 – for professional development for K-12 teachers. 

$100,000 – to the NC Department of Public Instruction to contract with regional/state teachers of the year, as well as teacher representatives for English language learners and exceptional children to record video lessons for use by other schools/teachers and for possible inclusion into digital curricula

Education, News

Wake County school board candidate admits he’s never heard about the state’s landmark Leandro school funding case

A candidate in Wake County’s District 2 school board race admitted he couldn’t answer a question about the state’s landmark Leandro school funding case because he’d never heard of the landmark court decision until asked to discuss it during a recent candidate’s forum.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the Leandro case is, so I don’t know how to answer that question.” Greg Hahn said during the forum this week co-sponsored by the District 2 PTA and the Wake County PTA Council.

His response surprised Bonnie Duncan, a Willow Springs parent and PTA member, who asked candidates how they thought the outcome of the case will impact them if elected to the school board.

“I think any candidate who is running for a role related to education in any way in our state or in our county should be aware of that case and the outcome of that case and how it will impact their role,” Duncan said.

Greg Hahn

Hahn is one of three candidates in the race, including incumbent Monika Johnson-Hostler. Dorian Fayette Hamilton didn’t participate in the forum.

Johnson-Hostler also found Hahn’s response surprising.

“Leandro is a landmark case in North Carolina and is responsive to what we all want for all students- access to a quality education,” Johnson-Hostler said. “While no one has all the answers, Leandro is central to our decision making as a school board member.”

She said it’s up to voters to decide whether to withhold their vote because Hahn didn’t know about the case.

The Leandro case began more than 25 years ago after five rural school districts in low-wealth counties sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education. In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

The case became a topic of  much discussion this year after an independent consultant released the West Ed report detailing the steps  North Carolina must take to meet Leandro mandates.

And last month, the judge overseeing the case signed a consent order calling for $427 million in additional education spending to help the state meet its constitutional obligation to provide all children with the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.

Hahn changed his answer slightly Wednesday when asked about the case. He told Policy Watch that he’d heard about the lawsuit “in passing.”

“I’m not going to hide from the fact that I did know more about the specifics,” Hahn said. “I did take that as an opportunity to research more about it and as I researched more about it something it’s something more for [someone] running for a judge or state position.”

Hahn didn’t expect such a question during a PTA forum for local school board candidates.

“I’m not saying it’s not important but right now, in 2020, it’s not on the forefront of what people are concerned about,” Hahn said.

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.”