Education

State representatives file omnibus bill to address education waiver requests

On Tuesday, the first day of the short session, members of the State House of Representatives filed an omnibus bill requesting waivers for testing, class size mandates and calendar flexibility, among others.

House Bill 1035 Education Omnibus/ COVID 19 will address waiver requests submitted by the State Board of Education in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which forced Gov. Roy Cooper to order school buildings closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Many of the state’s nearly 1.6 million students are receiving instruction online. Cooper said last week that he’s optimistic schools will reopen in time for the 2020-21 academic year.

State Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), State Rep. John Fraley, (R-Iredell) and State Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford) are the bill’s primary sponsors.

If approved by lawmakers, the bill would suspend end-of-grade and end-of-course exams for the current school year. The state would also table its controversial A-F grading scale for schools and districts. Some teachers would not receive bonuses linked to student performance.

Calendar flexibility would allow school districts to open as early as Aug. 17.  Under state law, schools cannot start earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 unless a weather-related calendar has been approved, or the school is year-round, a charter school or an innovative high school.

Additional waivers would:

  • Give beginning and early-career teachers additional time to meet state licensing requirements. Teachers with initial licenses set to expire June 30 would be extended for one year until they pass required tests by June 30, 2021.
  • New teaching graduates will be able to begin teaching without having passed the required exams, although education preparation programs have the option to recommend against licensure for candidates. And with approval by the legislature, the 16-week requirement for student teaching would be suspended for those students who had started that work before March 16.
  • Allow new teaching graduates to begin teaching without having passed the required exams, although education preparation programs have the option to recommend against licensure for candidates. And with approval by the legislature, the 16-week requirement for student teaching would be suspended for those students who started work before March 16.
  • Hold districts harmless from possible reductions in transportation funding for 2020-21 school year because of unexpected impacts from the COVID-19 closure. The board directed the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to develop a funding formula so that at a minimum, school districts will not face any reduction in their transportation allotment compared to 2019-2020 levels.

The House Standing Committee on K-12 Education is expected to discuss the bill at 4 p.m. You can see the live stream at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VhYcHA2NOQ&feature=youtu.be.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

Former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp standing up for science in pandemic

If you haven’t been keeping up with former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, a profile in last week’s issue of Chemical and Engineering News is worth your time.

Holden Thorp

After leaving Chapel Hill in 2013 Thorp served as provost of Washington University in St. Louis before becoming editor-in-chief of Science magazine last year.

Thorp, a chemist, wanted to use his editorials in the magazine to talk about the place of science in a variety of societal issues. As the piece shows, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a perfect opportunity.

From the story:

From the start, Thorp set out to write bolder editorials than Science published in the past. He thought his topics might focus on his long-term interests, such as diversity, improving university teaching, and lab safety. One of his early editorials took on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s push to sideline science data.

It didn’t take long for Thorp to recognize that the novel coronavirus deserved his attention. In late February, his first editorial on the topic pushed for China to share its data more openly.

But Thorp wasn’t really fired up until he heard President Trump tell pharmaceutical executives that they should speed up work on a vaccine. That led to the hugely popular editorial “Do Us a Favor.” Addressing the president, Thorp wrote: “If you want something, start treating science and its principles with respect.”

Not only is it dangerous to skip important steps in the drug development process, but Trump “implies that science wouldn’t want to go fast, that we’ve been holding back for some reason,” he says to C&EN. “To say, ‘Do me a favor, speed up’ with no idea as to why things have to be done the way they have to be done is just so disrespectful.”

In an editorial last month, Thorp took the Trump administration to task for its attitude toward science and scientists at a time when it’s never been more important to listen to the experts.

While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said—as it did last week—that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After 3 years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.

And although the steps required to produce a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend on biological and chemical processes that are essential. So the president might just as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”

I don’t expect politicians to know Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder chemical reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science when you don’t like it and then suddenly insist on something that science can’t give on demand. For the past 4 years, President Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy—all to support political goals—the nation has had nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science.

Now, the president suddenly needs science. But the centuries spent elucidating fundamental principles that govern the natural world—evolution, gravity, quantum mechanics—involved laying the groundwork for knowing what we can and cannot do. The ways that scientists accumulate and analyze evidence, apply inductive reasoning, and subject findings to scrutiny by peers have been proven over the years to give rise to robust knowledge. These processes are being applied to the COVID-19 crisis through international collaboration at breakneck, unprecedented speed; Science published two new papers earlier this month on SARS-CoV-2, and more are on the way. But the same concepts that are used to describe nature are used to create new tools. So, asking for a vaccine and distorting the science at the same time are shockingly dissonant.

Read the entire piece here.

Education

Keith Poston to lead WakeEd Partnership

Keith Poston

Keith Poston has been named president of WakeEd Partnership, a business-backed nonprofit that supports teachers and students in Wake County’s Public Schools.

Poston is the former president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a statewide public education nonprofit. He served in that role from 2015-2019.

“I am thrilled to have Keith lead our great organization going forward,” said WakeEd Partnership Board Chairman John Hummel. “Keith brings a wealth of experience in education nonprofits, education policy, fundraising, and board development and I am excited to start the new era of WakeEd Partnership with him.”

Poston succeeds Steve Parrott who retired in December. Caroline McCullen has served as interim president.

In a news release, Poston said he’s excited about the opportunity to lead the Partnership.

“While we are facing unprecedented challenges as a nation, if COVID-19 has reinforced anything to me it’s the central role our public schools hold in this community and every community across the country,” Poston said. “I am eager to help WakeEd Partnership play an important role as our community recovers and comes back together in our public school classrooms stronger and better than ever.”

While at the Forum, Poston launched several new initiatives including Color of Education, a partnership with the Samuel DuBois Cook Center for Social Equity at Duke and Duke Policy Bridge at the Sanford School of Public Policy focused on racial equity and The NC Resilience & Learning Project, a statewide effort to help schools better support children dealing with trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

He also developed and hosted the Public School Forum’s weekly television show “Education Matters.”  

Before joining WakeEd, Poston led Poston & Associates, a consulting firm that counseled organizations in communications strategy, issues management, education policy, development and fundraising.

Poston earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Education

Gov. Roy Cooper: Schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year

Gov. Roy Cooper

Calling it a tough decision, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that schools will remain closed throughout the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Cooper ordered schools closed across North Carolina in mid-March. They were to remain closed at least through May 15.

“We’ve had to make another tough choice,” Cooper said during an afternoon news conference. “We’ve decided to continue remote learning for the rest of the school year for our K-12 public schools.”

Cooper said the decision was made in consultation with State Board of Education (SBE) chairman Eric Davis and State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“We don’t make this decision lightly,” Cooper said. “But it’s important to protect the health and safety of our students and our school staff.”

The governor said he’s optimistic schools will reopen in August for the 2020-21 school year. But he added, “It won’t be business as usual.”

“There will be new measures in place to protect health when school buildings open again next [school] year,” Cooper said. “This pandemic will be with us for some time, but I have every confidence that we will find a way to get schools open safely in the new school year.”

Cooper said the opening of summer camps and the reopening of schools in the summer and fall will depend on them meeting health guidelines to be established later

State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis

Davis said moving forward, resources are needed to continue to feed children, remain connected to students and to provide training and support to educators rethinking instructional design and delivery.

The SBE has submitted a $380 million emergency funding request to lawmakers to support school nutrition, remote learning, exceptional children’s programs and funding for a Summer Bridge/Jump Start program for rising first through rising fourth graders who need extra support.

“We plan to invite this special group of students to gain a jump start on the next school year, reestablishing relationships with teachers and their classmates as they continue their education,” Davis said.

He said the program will focus on the early grades and literacy but could be expanded to more grades and students depending on funding levels.

In the meantime, Davis said school employees will continue to support students and to provide supplemental remote learning opportunities until the scheduled end of each district’s respective 2019-20 school year.

“Teachers and school employees are to continue to work and they remain eligible to be paid,” Davis said. “Hourly employees remain important for instructional purposes and to fulfilling urgent emergency needs. Local leaders should continue to assign duties to our valuable classified staff members to keep them working.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Johnson said that while there was hope schools could eventually reopen this school year, the current COVID-19 situation does not make that possible.

“However, I want to assure everyone that this will not be the new normal,” Johnson said. “While this crisis has forced us to be reactive over the last month, plans for next school year are already underway and will be proactive.”

Johnson said more news about those measures will be shared soon.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the state’s nearly 100,000 public school educators support the decision to keep schools closed.

“While the school buildings remain closed, the education and learning will continue,” Jewell said. “Our educators continue to be on the front lines of this pandemic providing new remote learning opportunities and essential nutritional and emotional support, and we appreciate local school districts adhering to the more stringent personal protecting protocols and social distancing guidelines.”

On Thursday, Cooper extended the statewide stay-at-home order until May 8.

To lift the order, Cooper has said the state will need to see progress in the leveling or decreased trajectory COVID-like illnesses over 14 days; sustained leveling or decreased trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over 14 Days; sustained leveling or decreased trajectory in percent of positive tests over 14 days and a leveling or decrease in hospitalizations over 14 days.

Some educators saw Cooper extending the order as a signal schools would not reopen May 15.

Cooper’s reopening of the state in phases was also considered a clue that schools would not reopen because each phase lasts two to three weeks.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced Wednesday that schools in his state would remain closed through the end of the school year.

Education Week reports that 41 states, three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year.  That affects approximately 43 million public school students, including 1.6 million in North Carolina.

McMaster encouraged districts to continue to offer remote learning opportunities through the school year. He also wants them to consider holding some type of graduation ceremony for seniors.

This week, Keith Sutton, chairman of the Wake County Board of Education, said this week that the state’s largest school district will find a way to honor its seniors.

“We are committed to making sure that our seniors have some graduation experience,” Sutton said during a video update on the school district’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. “We’re not sure what that might look like.”

Dane West, a Wake County social studies teacher, said Cooper had a tough decision to make.

“However, I believe this is the only way to keep my students and colleagues as well as our families safe as safe as possible during the pandemic,” West said. “I am going to keep doing my best to teach my students in this unprecedented time and hope the NCGA [state lawmakers] will work with Gov. Cooper to do what is necessary to help our public schools through this time and for whatever might come in the future.”

Adrian Harrold Wood, a North Carolina writer and mother of four, including one child with special needs, said Cooper is right to stay the course.

“In considering the scientific data available to us surrounding COVID-19, I think Gov. Cooper is being prudent in his decision to close schools for the rest of the year,” Wood said. “While it is not an easy decision, North Carolina’s numbers are just not where they need to be. We cannot put families nor teachers at risk.”

Wood applauded the state’s teachers for their efforts.

“I believe that our teachers are working harder than ever to teach virtually, and I am so appreciative of their efforts,” she said. “As the mom of four children and one with autism, it has not been easy. I think North Carolina families recognize that we have to work hard now so that we can benefit in the long run.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

Elon students cited for violating social distancing mandates

Police in the small college town of Elon report that in the last month they have have cited 17 Elon University students for violations of  the state stay-at-home order and the town’s own state of emergency declaration, according to the school’s Elon New Network.

From the story:

A gathering of five students on April 14 at an off-campus house resulted in three citations for violating the state non-essential travel order and for delaying an investigation, when students fled from officers informing them of the social distancing policies according to police reports.

Another incident on March 28 resulted in 14 students and one visitor being cited during an off-campus party for violating the town ordinance prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.

The town ordinance, which prohibits residents from social gatherings above 10 people, was put into effect March 20, and the state order that prohibits non-essential travel outside one’s home was put into effect March 30.

The students involved in both incidents declined to comment.

“Safety is paramount. We are following the advice of people who are a lot smarter about this than we are,” Richard Rodener, the town manager of Elon said.

Roedner stressed the purpose of the policies stemmed from providing residents with education about best practices like wearing gloves, masks and avoiding unnecessary contact with others during the pandemic.

Elon students have been the only residents in the town cited for violating the state and local ordinances put in place due to the coronavirus, besides the one non-student who was with the first 14 cited.

Those involved were cited with class two misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. According to Associate Vice President of Student Life Jana Lynn Patterson, reports will be sent to the Office of Student Conduct, and students could face disciplinary measures from the university including fines and suspension, according to the Elon University Student Handbook.

 

The town of Elon’s population is only about 12,000 but the university has about 7,000 students drawn from 48 states and the District of Columbia as well as International students from 47 nations.