UNC-Pembroke chancellor: Attending Trump rally was “inconsistent” with COVID safety urged by school

UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings says his attending a rally for President Donald Trump  in Lumberton last week was “inconsistent” with how he has encouraged students, faculty and staff to behave during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an e-mail to the university community this weekend, Cummings said he attended the rally at the invitation of Lumbee tribal members as a way to support the tribe’s quest for federal recognition.

Both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden support federal recognition for the tribe. Trump’s announcement of his support came weeks after Biden, whose campaign has not been holding large-scale rallies due to concerns about community spread of the coronavirus.

UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings

The U.S. has seen more than 8.7 million infections and more than 225,000 deaths, with recent spikes bringing the seven day rolling average of new cases to a new high of 68,767.

Cummings, a retired surgeon, has discouraged students, faculty and staff from attending large-scale gatherings as the school has seen a recent increase in infections and infection clusters.

“Like many in our country and across the world, you may be feeling frustrated and tired of COVID-19 affecting your daily life as it restricts our ability to connect with each other in-person,” Cumming wrote in an e-mail to the campus community just last week. “But please don’t let that stand in the way of our success. We have come so far this semester, and I ask you to please take these final weeks very seriously. We must wear our masks and practice social distancing without fail. And please, do not attend or host gatherings of any size if possible.”

One day after writing that e-mail, Cummings attended the large-scale Trump rally.

Cummings’ e-mail on attending the rally, in its entirety:


For essentially my adult life, I have consistently and strongly advocated for full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe. In recent weeks, many elected officials have publicly confirmed their support of Lumbee recognition, an outcome the Lumbee Tribe has worked toward over the past 100 years. Advancing and supporting this region is one of our university’s driving goals, and the impact of the education, health and housing benefits full federal recognition would bring to UNCP, Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina is a critical step forward in that path. Most importantly, recognition is the just course to correct an injustice.

I was asked to accompany a delegation of tribal members to an event in Lumberton, where the President was to offer his full support of Lumbee recognition efforts. Both presidential candidates have expressed their support for the Lumbee people, and I remain grateful to them and all who support these long-overdue efforts regardless of political affiliation.

My commitment and passion for tribal recognition influenced my decision to attend the announcement. I understand and accept the concern and disappointment over participation in a gathering that was well over our campus limitations. While I did maintain social distancing given the seating arrangement provided and wore my mask throughout the event, it was still inconsistent with how we have navigated the fall semester under my direction.


Robin Gary Cummings, MD Chancellor

Online reaction to the e-mail from students, parents and staff has been swift and negative. A number have noted the e-mail does not contain an actual apology, simply an acknowledgement from the chancellor that his behavior was “inconsistent” and that he understands and accepts peoples’ disappointment.

Wayne County schools closed after coronavirus outbreaks have reopened

Students and teachers at a Wayne County elementary school returned to classes Wednesday, nearly a week after the district closed it due to a coronavirus cluster.

North Drive Elementary School became the district’s first cluster after four staff members and two students tested positive for the virus. The school shifted to remote learning after the outbreak. Wayne County Public Schools (WCPS) is operating under a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning.

Interim Superintendent James Merrill said in a statement that the decision to reopen the school came after careful consideration of the risks and two deep cleanings by a professional cleaning crew.

“When staff and students return, it will have been more than two weeks since the last reported case of a positive individual being on campus,” Merrill said in a statement.

Northside became the second WCPS school closed due to an outbreak of coronavirus.

Brogden Primary School closed Oct. 6 after eight people tested positive for the virus.  The school reopened for in-person instruction Tuesday.

School officials said the Brogden outbreak did not rise to the level of a cluster because five cases could not be connected.  State health officials define a cluster as a minimum of five laboratory confirmed cases with illness onsets and five or more connected cases.

The school district also released information about the about the purchase of  personal protective equipment and the number of Chromebooks bought in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Policy Watch requested the information for a story published Oct. 13. 

Critics say financial problem left the district unprepared to reopen for in-person instruction. The district’s superintendent and finance director resigned amid questions about a $5 million budget shortfall and a critical financial audit.

District watchdogs said there aren’t enough Chromebooks for all students to access remote learning. A former teacher and local businesses launched a Chromebook drive to raise money to purchase devices for students.

Wayne County Public Schools spokesman Ken Derksen said the district has issued 6,501 Chromebooks and 479 wi-fi hot spots for student use during the pandemic. The district is awaiting delivery of  7,639 Chromebooks, he said.

“Once the new Chromebooks arrive, WCPS will be 1:1 for all middle and high grades (1 Chromebook per student) and will be able to support elementary grades,” Derksen said.

Derksen also shared information about the purchase of personal protective equipment.

Teachers told an officer in the local branch of the NAACP that the district didn’t give them the  resources needed keep students safe.

“They [teachers] told me that they were given a bucket, some dirty rags, one bottle of sanitizer and a mask, and that’s what they were supposed to use to clean their classrooms and keep their classrooms clean,” Smith told Policy Watch. “I’m sorry, that’s not how you deep clean.”

Here’s what Derksen had to say in an email message to Policy Watch. The message included an attachment with a long list of personal protective equipment purchases:

WCPS continues using special state and federal funding to purchase cleaning equipment and supplies to support sanitization and disinfectant efforts at schools. Every school has been provided disinfectant cleaning equipment that can be used daily to disinfect both the air and contact surfaces in all of the classrooms, common areas, restrooms, and other areas where people have been. Additionally, similar disinfectant cleaning equipment has been purchased for daily cleaning of buses. Classroom supplies continue being purchased to support teacher and staff efforts to sanitize desks and other contact surfaces in between students. Since the start of school, teachers have been provided refillable hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning solution, which will be refilled and resupplied as needed. Hand sanitizer stations have also been provided to all of the schools for placement in key areas of their campus.

WCPS is actively restocking schools and classrooms as needed while at the same time it is working to keep supplies ordered and on hand.



Online course for remote learning coming Oct. 28 for parents, teachers

Remote learning has proven to be a challenge for parent and educators.

The governor’s office will provide a free online course Oct. 28 to help educators and parents sharpen their technology and remote learning skills.

To attend the REAL 2.0 Conference, register at ncstudentconnect.com up until Oct. 28.

”Teachers, parents and students have adapted to new ways of learning throughout the pandemic, and I admire your resilience, creativity and dedication,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “Even as we work to get children back into the classroom safely our schools and families need support for remote learning and this conference is one way we’re providing that help.”

The conference will occur as more schools across North Carolina transition to in-person instruction. In recent weeks, Cooper has faced heavy lobbying from teachers who want to keep students home until the coronavirus is under control.

The REAL 2.0 (Remote Education & Learning) Conference will include sessions by experts in fields including education, mental health and technology. It will be hosted by the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE), a business-led, education nonprofit housed in the governor’s office.

Here’s what educators will learn: Navigating asynchronous learning; how to teach students effective study habits, time management and daily routines for virtual learning; tips and timesavers in Canvas; ideas for getting students motivated during virtual learning; Google Classroom and Google Meets tips and tricks; resources for struggling students; addressing the needs of exceptional learners in the regular classroom; video creating and editing tips; and much more. Exceptional student needs will be addressed throughout the sessions.

Topics for parents will include: Digital literacy; understanding Canvas and Google Classroom; how to support children with autism during remote learning; the college application and FAFSA process; fostering good mental health for parents and their children; and much more.

The initial REAL Conference was held in August as most students returned to classrooms for remote instruction. It was attended by more than 1,300 educators who learned about best practices for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

REAL 2.0 is the second in a series of virtual remote learning conferences that will be held through Cooper’s NC Student Connect initiative. The STEM Connect Conference will be held Nov. 17 for STEM educators to learn best practices for incorporating STEM into the virtual classroom. The Cultural Arts LIVE Conference will be held on Dec. 15-16 for arts and humanities educators and their classes.

Recordings of the REAL 2.0 Conference will be available at studentconnect.com following the conference and educators can also view the recordings from the first REAL Conference at the same link.  

A second Wayne County school has been closed due to a coronavirus outbreak

Wayne County Schools has closed a second school for in-person instruction due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The district reported Thursday that four staff members and two students at North Drive Elementary School have contracted the virus. Neither the students nor staff members have been on the campus since last week, the district said in a statement posted on its website.

Former Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill is trying to sort out the financial mess in the Wayne County school system.

The school will transition to remote instruction for two weeks. The district closed Brogden Primary School for in-person instruction a week ago after several staffers tested positive for the virus.

North Drive is the district’s first coronavirus cluster because the infections are connected, Interim Superintendent James Merrill said.

“The school had four reported cases between October 6 and October 9,” Merrill said. “Today, (Oct. 15) we learned about two additional cases. Based on contract tracing, we believe these cases are connected.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) defines a cluster as five laboratory confirmed cases within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases, explained Ken Derksen, the district’s spokesman.

“So, it is possible to have more than five cases on a campus and not have connections between cases,” Derksen said.

North Drive was deep cleaned last weekend by a professional cleaning service after the district started seeing a higher than usual number of cases over the course of a week. District officials said a second deep cleaning will occur before any staff or students return to the building.

Wayne County is home to the largest school coronavirus cluster in the state. Wayne Christian Academy has 34 cases. Twenty-eight of the cases are children and six are staff members.

The closures of Brogden and North Drive come as school districts across North Carolina prepare to reopen schools for in-person instruction. The state is also seeing a disturbing uptick in the number of positive tests. On Thursday, state health officials reported an upward trend in hospitalizations, new cases and hospital emergency room visits by people with COVID-like symptoms.

“We have to be diligent in the middle of this pandemic as we try to educate children to the best of our ability,” said Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators. “We can’t stop COVID-19 from coming into the schools but we can slow it down by wearing masks and social distancing as much as possible.”

Kilgore has said the district should only offer remote instruction until the virus is under control.

“There’s no win-win,” Kilgore said Friday. “I think it would be cheaper given our financial issues but we would have to reassure our bus drivers and our cafeteria staff that we would be able to continue to pay them if we move to remote learning.”

Community leaders and others believe the district’s financial problems prevented it from adequately preparing to bring students and staff safely back to school buildings for in-person instruction.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board renames high school to honor late civil rights attorney; removes name of former governor who owned slaves

Julius Chambers

A Charlotte high school named in honor of a slave-holding governor will be renamed to honor a civil rights attorney whose signature work paved the way for full school integration.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education on Tuesday voted to strip the name of two-time governor Zebulon Baird Vance from Vance High School and replaced it with that of Julius L. Chambers, a noted attorney who helped to shape the nation’s civil right laws.

The school will be renamed Julius L. Chambers High School.

“Mr. Chambers’ life and legacy represents the very best of who we are,” CMS school board member Elyse Dashew said in a statement. “He worked to make our county, state and country a more just and fairer place for all of us. His name on the high school will remind students, and the rest of us, that social justice is achievable, and we share responsibility for making it happen.”

Chambers, who died in 2013, founded the first integrated law firm in the state. The firm brought several landmark civil rights cases, including Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which sought to uphold busing programs used to speed school desegregation.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that busing was an appropriate remedy for school racial imbalance, even when that imbalance occurred due to students attending schools closer to home rather than deliberate school assignments based on race.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of six-year-old James Swann and nine other families. Chambers would go on to lead the organization founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American appointed to the nation’s highest court.

The CMS statement noted that the renaming followed many community discussions about Vance who was a lawyer, U.S. senator and Confederate military office who came from a wealthy, slave-owning Buncombe County family.

“Names and symbols should reflect our values. They speak to who we are and what we aspire to do,” said CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston. “Mr. Chambers was a major figure in civil rights locally and nationally, bringing cases that shaped our laws to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this renaming, we consulted with the students, the school staff and the community.”

The board considered two other names — University City High School and Queen City High School. It decided on Julius L. Chambers High School after more than 500 students and 1,200 residents made it their top choice in a survey.

Chambers was a popular chancellor at his alma mater, N.C, Central University in Durham, from 1991-2000. The university’s Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute carries his name.