Education

North Carolina’s public schools to receive more than $170 million in federal aid to address COVID-19 crisis

Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina’s public schools will receive more than $175 million in federal aid under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

School nutrition programs across the state will get $75 million of the $15.7 billion in CARES Act money allocated by state lawmakers in House Bill 1043.

School districts are set to receive $70 million to launch summer learning programs for thousands of students whose educations were interrupted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Another $30 million will go to schools to purchase computers and other devices for students to access remote learning opportunities. State officials estimate that more than 300,000 students do not have the electronic devices or internet connections needed to participate in remote learning.

Cooper also signed Senate Bill 704, which allows school districts to start school Aug. 17. That’s a week earlier than schools could start ordinarily under the state calendar law.

Meanwhile, SB 704 suspends many of the state’s testing required for the current school year. It also suspends the controversial A-F grading for schools.

“I am signing into law two critical relief bills that will provide assistance to families, schools, hospitals and small businesses as our state battles COVID-19,” Cooper said in a news release. “There is more work ahead of us, and I hope the spirit of consensus behind these bills will continue.”

The bills were the result of a bipartisan effort to address the needs of the state during the COVID-19 crisis which forced Cooper to close schools for the remainder of the academic year.

“The General Assembly crafted a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package that puts North Carolina on the right path to recovery,” Sen. President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. “Gov. Cooper’s signature on these bills sends a signal to our citizens that our state is moving past this crisis and that action is being taken to address their concerns.”

HB 1043 also includes:

  • $50 million to provide personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies.
  • $25 million to support enhanced COVID-19 testing and tracing.
  • $125 million in small business loans administered through the Golden LEAF Foundation.
  • $50 million in health support for underserved communities including rural areas and minority communities.
  • $95 million to support North Carolina hospitals.
  • $20 million to support local health departments and the State Health Lab
  • $6 million for food banks.
  • $9 million for rural broadband.
  • $85 million for vaccine development, antibody testing, community testing, and other COVID-19-related research at Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, Campbell University, and Wake Forest University.

And SB 704 includes:

  • An extension of driver’s license and registration expiration deadlines.
  • Waived interest on tax payments normally due in April.
  • Allows pharmacists to administer a COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed.

 

 

Education, Higher Ed

Silent Sam lawsuit dismissed, statue returned to custody of UNC-Chapel Hill

A Superior Court judge has dismissed the Sons of Confederate Veterans lawsuit over the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill, bringing to a conclusion the latest chapter in a decades-long controversy over the statue.

In an order filed Friday, Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said the court is satisfied that the statue has been returned to UNC by the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization along with the the $2.5 million that was part of the settlement — or the portion the organization did not spend before the judge scrapped the original settlement between UNC and the SCV.

Nearly $90,000 was ultimately found to have been spent on legal costs and administration of the trust set up as part of the settlement. The Sons of Confederate Veterans will not have to return that money, Baddour said last month.

Elizabeth Haddix, attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said it was “regrettable” that the organization did not have to return the money it spent on a lawsuit the court ultimately found to be without merit.

Haddix’s organization represented a group of students and one professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who sought to legally intervene in the case. Though Baddour did not allow them to enter the case, he did allow them to prepare an amicus brief on the question of whether the Sons of Confederate Veterans had standing.

That action led to a movement to overturn the settlement that came to include 88 prominent UNC alumni filing their own amicus brief in the case. Among them were 14 members of the UNC Black Pioneers, a group of students who broke the color barrier at UNC-Chapel Hill between 1952 and 1972.

“Our clients are focusing on their exams this week, but will be issuing a statement in the coming weeks,” Haddix said. “As their lawyers and as alumni of UNC Law ourselves, we are glad that, thanks to our clients and the distinguished alumni who joined as amici, we are celebrating the victory that this fictitious and collusive lawsuit has finally been dismissed and that most of the $2.5 million has been returned to the University.”

“It is regrettable that even after the court determined that the lawsuit was groundless, the UNC Board of Governors supported paying $89,000 — money that could be used right now to support students and faculty during these difficult times — for lawyers that collaborated to benefit the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their white supremacist mission,” Haddix said.

Though the statue has been returned to the custody of UNC-Chapel Hill, the school’s chancellor has joined the UNC System Interim President and the chairman of the UNC Board of Governors in saying the monument should not and will not be re-erected on the campus.

 

Education

Education expert Mary Ann Wolf to lead the Public School Forum of North Carolina

Mary Ann Wolf

Education policy and leadership expert Mary Ann Wolf was named executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina on Monday.

Wolf is a senior director at N.C. State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.

She will begin work at the Forum, an education advocacy organization, June 15.

“We are facing a challenging time in education, and the Forum’s policy, research, and programs — all of which have a laser focus on equity — have never been more important,” Wolf said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the talented team, Board of Directors, Advisory Board, many EPFP and Teaching Fellow alumni and education leaders across our state to build upon the Forum’s 35-year history and improve education for all of our students.”

Wolf replaces Michael Priddy, who has served as interim president and executive director since October.

Priddy took on the role after Keith Poston resigned as president. Poston now leads the WakeEd Partnership, a business-backed nonprofit group that supports the Wake County Public School System.

Thomas Williams, president of the forum’s Board of Directors, said Wolf is a proven leader,

“Her knowledge, skills, and experience in North Carolina, as well as across our nation, in the areas of research, public policy, and innovative programming are a strong match with our excellent staff and our current and emerging initiatives,” Williams added.

After teaching fifth grade in Henrico, Va., Wolf earned a doctorate in education, administration and supervision from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Wolf received a Master’s of Education from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting and marketing from Georgetown University.

Wolf lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Brian. She has three children, Marin, Matthew and Andrew, who attend public schools in North Carolina.

COVID-19, Education, News

State extends emergency leave for school employees for one month

School bus mechanic – Image Wake County Public School System

Emergency paid leave for public school employees was extended until May 31 by the State Board of Education on Thursday. 

The news was welcomed by many hourly employees facing the prospect of having to return to work during the COVID-19 outbreak once the SBE’s emergency paid leave policy expired Thursday. 

The policy was first approved by the board on March 27 to “help protect the public health and safeguard the well-being public school employees” during the COVID-19 crisis.  

Under the extension, the maximum number of hours available to employees increased from 168 to 328 from April 1 through May 31. 

Schools buildings across the state have been closed since mid-March due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many students and educators are now engaged in remote learning. 

Gov. Roy Cooper said last week that he’s confident schools will reopen in the fall. And state Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Thursday the creation of a bipartisan task force that will begin to study reopening schools in August. 

Under the emergency leave policy, school districts can continue to pay and to provide benefits to eligible employees who cannot work remotely, who have childcare or eldercare needs or are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. 

SBE attorney Eric Snider said districts will continue to administer the benefit the same way under the extension. 

Snider said the original goal of the policy, to keep employees safe, remains relevant. 

But he said the extension also helps to protect the public schools’ share of more than $400 million in federal money the state is set to receive under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. 

Under the CARES Act, schools are required to the “greatest extent practical to continue to pay employees and contractors during the period of disruptions and school closures related to the coronavirus,” Snider said. 

“This policy would help districts continue to meet that mandate in federal law and protect those funds,” he added. 

Additionally, Snider said districts have asked for a decision about extending the policy to avoid churn and to give employees some certainty about the benefit heading into the final weeks of the academic year. 

SBE member James Ford was concerned about language in the policy that only “encourages” districts to find remote work opportunities for employees during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“I’ve received some correspondence from stakeholders, that in their districts, that this language is perhaps too loose,” Ford said. “It serves as guidance but what ends up happening is the first alternative is to find ways to make you still come in [when] unless absolutely necessary, folks are encouraged to work from home. 

He said employees ordered to work are more often hourly paid workers. 

“Inevitably it ends up breaking out across certain class lines,” Ford said. “Teachers are allowed to work from home, but folks who are classified staff who are often, if we’re being honest, less well-paid, are sort of deliberately being put in harm’s way and being forced to come into these environments that places them at unnecessary risk.” 

He asked to strengthen the language to make it clear that the board wants all alternative to find remote work exhausted before employees are ordered to come in for work. 

SBE member Olivia Oxendine said Ford’s concerns are valid but was reluctant to change the language because districts have drafted local policies and procedures based on the wording in the SBE’s policy.  Read more

Education

Parents, civil rights groups challenge town charter school districts

Mark Dorosin

Parents, civil rights groups and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, are challenging a law approved by the General Assembly in 2018 that gave four towns in North Carolina the right to establish charter schools.

The plaintiffs, who filed the complaint in Wake County Superior Court against the State of North Carolina, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, contend the law “violates the state’s constitutional guarantees of a uniform system of free public education, and equal protection under the law.”

House Bill 514 authorized four predominantly white, wealthy towns in Mecklenburg County —Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius — to create Town Charter School Districts within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools District.

It was introduced following a proposal by CMS to redraw student assignment areas to stop the racial and socioeconomic segregation in CMS schools.

HB 514 became law without Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature because it was considered a “local bill,” only applying to four towns in Mecklenburg County.

“These Town Charters will result in further racial and socioeconomic segregation of students not only by creating majority white and wealthy schools using public funds,” said Mark Dorosin, a managing attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee. “But also by leaving CMS schools even more segregated by race and class and undermining the district’s ability to address that disparity. Decades of education research shows that segregation hurts all students.”

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP and two parents with children in CMS filed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee and the law firm of Tin, Fulton, Walker and Owen, P.L.L.C.

“Allowing these predominantly white towns to create publicly funded schools that can exclude the Black and Brown students that live in Charlotte is another attempt to push our schools back to the days before Brown v. Board of Ed., Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP said in a news release.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP President Corinne Mack said black students deserve the same high-quality teachers, curriculum and facilities that students from white and wealthier families enjoy.

“We are bringing this lawsuit to protect all students’ rights to an equitable education and to help end the segregation in CMS,” Mack said.