Education, News

After Florida school massacre, hundreds rally in Raleigh for gun control

Zainab Antepli speaks at Tuesday’s gun control rally.

“I am 13 years old. I should be worried about what Netflix show I want to watch next, not a plan of escape from a public place.”

Sandra Gonzalez-Parral, an eighth grader from Wake County, was speaking to hundreds who gathered outside Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Tuesday in Raleigh to demand gun control legislation from state and federal lawmakers.

Zainab Antepli, another Wake County student, offered a fiery denunciation of school violence and anti-gun control politicians that stirred the crowd.

“We are calling for common sense,” said Antepli. “We are calling for adults to act like adults.”

The rally was emotional, hopeful and seething at the same time, as North Carolina K-12 students lit candles in memory of the 17 people who died in a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school last week. Afterwards, they marched down Hillsborough Street to the state capitol in downtown Raleigh, holding signs that alternately skewered legislators and gun culture.

“Thoughts and prayers cannot bring back those students to their families,” said Zoe Nichols, a student at Broughton High in Raleigh.

Tuesday’s rally was one of a number of massive, student-led protests cropping up since a 19-year-old  allegedly used an assault rifle to gun down teenagers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High a week ago.

Protesters are planning multiple events in March, including campus walk-outs and a national march in Washington, D.C., to advocate for change in the nation’s gun laws, even as gun rights groups push back against any restrictions.

Speakers on Tuesday talked about mental health awareness, but saved the most anger for the NRA and politicians such as Republican senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who were reportedly among the largest beneficiaries of NRA contributions in the last election. 

Zoe Nichols, of Raleigh, addresses the rally Tuesday.

“We are watching you,” said Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial. “We are paying attention and we demand change.”

“Once again our national leaders have failed us,” added Bryan Lee, Pullen Memorial’s youth minister. “Once again our state leaders have failed us.”

State leaders signaled their intent to at least discuss school safety in the coming weeks, with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore announcing the launch of a new legislative committee geared toward possible legislation.

Yet the GOP-controlled General Assembly seems unlikely to approve any stringent gun restrictions in the coming days, even as Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to take action.

Legislators reportedly may talk over a proposal to arm school personnel, a controversial suggestion lobbed by Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican, last week.

Gov. Roy Cooper

Cooper said Tuesday that he spoke to his daughters after the Parkland shooting, and millennials have “had enough of this.”

“It is time to step up and do something,” said Cooper. “It is time to make sure that we look at all options, that we strengthen background checks. There is just no reason why someone with this background that people knew about should be able to go in and buy an (AR-15) assault rifle.”

 

Education, News

Smaller schools, nurses, the arts: Lauded North Carolina teacher talks gun violence

Bobbie Cavnar

Smaller schools, better community engagement, more school nurses and a renewed emphasis on the arts.

All are ways educators may address the wave of gun violence in U.S. schools, says Bobbie Cavnar, a 12th-grade English teacher in Gaston County who, this month, took home a top honor from the National Education Association.

Cavnar, a former adviser to the State Board of Education, was also North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year in 2016-2017.  

Cavnar said he limited his remarks in Sunday’s “open letter” to ways that he believes educators can impact the issue.

His letter comes days after a teen gunned down 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., reigniting a furious debate about school violence and gun control.

It’s worth noting that Cavnar said he began his career with a teaching internship at the Florida school.

From Cavnar’s letter:

I stood in my local grocery store counting copies of The Charlotte Observer. “One to send my parents in Florida,” I thought, “one to take to my classroom, one for home, one to send my brother…” I lost count and bought every copy they had. You see, I was featured on the front page of the newspaper that day, under the headline, “Once an outsider, Belmont’s star teacher named best in nation.” I could feel my face flush as I neatly stacked a pile of newspapers with my picture in front of the cashier and asked if I could have several plastic bags as a light rain had begun to fall.

I was eager to show the article to my students, but when the first class of high school seniors filed into my room, and I looked into their eyes, I knew the headline I needed to talk about was not my own. Rather, it was the headline that shared the front page: “Teen confesses to shooting, says he carried extra ammo.”

It was not only the stark contrast of these stories that struck me, but what these two stories represented to me. I began my teaching career with a student teaching internship at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school where the shooting took place. Now, at the pinnacle of my career, to see that community shattered by violence, the dissonance turned my stomach. There I was, the “nation’s best” public school teacher, smiling up from the page, a useless jester, reciting poetry on a rutted battlefield.

At first, I turned to social media for answers and found nothing but tumult, every idea met with calls that such things were impossible, explanations of why it wouldn’t fix the problem, or just plain ridicule. Is this the new normal of teaching? Is it simply the unavoidable future of our nation?

Countless times I saw the same argument, “These things didn’t happen in my day because…” but the reasons that followed rang hollow to my ear. So, as in many of my darkest moments, I turned off the computer, and I went to my bookshelves. In the back of my classroom is a collection of school yearbooks going back more than 70 years. I pulled a few off the shelves and began looking at the faces of the children, hoping to see what changed in them, in us, that brought us to this point.

What I saw was that the kids never changed. Sure their hair and clothes altered with the decades, but in those black and white photos, I could still see the same hopeful eyes, gleeful smiles, sly mischief, goofiness and joy that I see every day in my classroom. However, though the kids never seemed to change, everything around them did. They went from graduating classes of 85 and high school populations below 500, to graduations housed in arenas for lack of seating and elementary schools nearing 2,000 students. How could anyone truly know these kids, I thought, know their neighborhoods, know what they go home to each night, know their families, when there can be 3,000 or 4,000 kids on a sprawling high school campus today?

In some old yearbooks I saw pictures of drama, Beta and glee clubs, bands and sports teams whose total participation amounted to nearly half the school. And I imagined trying out for one of a dozen spots on a soccer team, or in a school play, if I were one of 4,000 on a campus. I saw nurses in each school who kids could go to for care or help. Today a lone school nurse is spread out amongst four schools with a caseload in the thousands. I saw in these yearbooks how schools were once built in the center of their communities, and the faculty and children lived side-by-side. Today, there are many areas where teachers cannot afford to live in the community in which they teach. I visited one rural North Carolina school last year wherein not a single teacher lived in the district. A school was once the center of the community, and the students, faculty, nurses, counselors, custodians walked the same sidewalks each day. Today, it feels as if communities are turning and turning in this widening gyre, and there is no center to hold.

But of all the faded pictures I flipped through that day, the one that has stayed fixed in my mind was of Mrs. Hugh Lowe, who is listed on the faculty page as simply, “piano teacher.” There is an attempt today to measure the outcomes of every action in a public school, to ensure that the public is getting a good return on its investment. While I do not oppose this accountability, it has had the perverse consequence that only those things that can be easily counted seem to count for anything. Now, more than ever, it is vital that when we ask what is the value, we do not ignore those things with moral and emotional value. Science, technology, engineering, math – these are essential to move our nation into the future, but what will that future be if we lose our soul along the way?

The arts and humanities are how we learn to be human. We learn to see each other as fellow humans by listening to each others’ stories and feeling each others’ emotions. I don’t know if any of Mrs. Lowe’s students ever became professional pianists, but I am confident that the life-long value of having a piano teacher at a school would not be measurable by our current system. Thus, as our schools get larger, and our art departments continue to shrink, we are losing  our empathy. Children do not hate; one must be carefully taught to hate. But once a child is taught to hate, there is only one way they will learn to love, and that is to be carefully taught to love. That is why the humanities are so vital today. It is only in the humanities that we teach empathy, and it is only through empathy that we can heal our nation.

As I closed those yearbooks, I looked down at my worn, leather journal, and here is what I had written:

  • Build smaller schools
    • Allows more kids to be involved in school activities
    • Allows staff to really know the kids and families
    • Safer and easier to monitor as well
  • Teachers and staff should live in the community together with students’ families
  • Put a nurse in every school
  • Do not ignore the emotional and moral value of the humanities
  • Teach the arts as a means of teaching empathy and countering hate

I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I am just a fool, reading dusty yearbooks and glorifying the past. Maybe the days of community schools are over. But If nothing else, I know this: these are the the schools I want for my daughters. They are such nice little girls, I think they deserve it.

Education, News

After Florida school shooting, Speaker Moore says he will launch school safety committee

Following this week’s horrendous school shooting in Parkland, Fla., N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore says he will launch a committee tasked with making recommendations for improving school safety.

According to WRAL, Moore said he will announce the committee’s membership at a press conference next week in Shelby.

More from WRAL:

The bipartisan House Select Committee on School Safety will examine current safety standards and procedures in North Carolina’s elementary, middle and high schools and make recommendations on “statutory and non-statutory changes to ensure the highest level of safety for North Carolina students, teachers and other school personnel,” Joseph Kyzer said in an email to WRAL News.

The email came in response to questions WRAL News sent to members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state political leaders about what actions needed to be taken to limit the number of mass shootings in the U.S.

“The committee will seek information from experts in the fields of education, law enforcement, mental health and crisis management and consult with local governments and school systems on procedures that have proven effective in ensuring safety in our schools,” Kyzer said.

Last month, another state legislative committee reviewed improvements to school security that have taken place across the state in recent years and discussed technology that could upgrade security further.

Some lawmakers suggested allowing school personnel to carry concealed guns on campus. North Carolina law permits only law enforcement officers to carry firearms at schools. All other weapons must be inside locked vehicles.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus

Federal lawmakers are under increasing pressure to take up gun control measures in Congress following Wednesday’s massacre. However, it’s been a week of mixed responses from North Carolina’s state and federal legislators.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican known for his often incendiary rhetoric, is taking some criticism after he reportedly suggested that schools should arm teachers. 

Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Gov. Roy Cooper won’t veto class size, Board of Elections, pipeline omnibus

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the class size bill Wednesday
at the Executive Mansion (Photo taken by Billy Ball).

Gov. Roy Cooper says he won’t veto an omnibus bill that eases North Carolina’s class size crisis, despite several parts of the bill that he calls “political attacks and power grabs.”

“Our kids in schools are too important,” said Cooper. “But we do need to talk about the bad parts of the bill.”

The legislation, which he characterized as “a sigh of relief that came too late,” phases in class size caps for grades K-3 over the next four years and offers recurring funding for arts, music and physical education teachers that might have been crowded out by districts’ search for cash to fund new classroom educators.

“The class size chaos that this legislature started caused agony and anger and angst across this state for no reason,” said Cooper.

Meanwhile, Cooper said the deal only “partly” resolves the state’s class size headache, pointing out that—as Policy Watch reported today—the accord comes with no funds for school districts’ construction needs arising from the state mandate.

Cooper said school superintendents were “wringing their hands not knowing what to do” over the infrastructure issues. Many districts will have to spend millions to find new classroom space.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen school superintendents that desperate,”said Cooper. “And these legislators let that problem fester for two years.”

Additionally, the state continues to grapple with a teacher shortage that may vex local school leaders’ efforts to fill more classrooms, a point brought up by the governor Wednesday.

“A smaller class size doesn’t do much good with no teacher in it,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s decision likely has little impact on the bill’s fate, considering the GOP-dominated General Assembly has a veto-proof voting majority on the legislation.

Republicans described the package bill, delivered as a conference report on House Bill 90 last week, as pulling together multiple, urgent issues, including a still-brewing court battle over an elections and ethics board merger, as well as a $58 million environmental mitigation fund that Cooper announced shortly after the pipeline received its permits.

GOP lawmakers say Cooper doesn’t have the authority to oversee that fund. They also suggested the Democratic governor negotiated a “quid pro quo” arrangement to secure the pipeline, which Republican legislators also support.

Cooper said Republicans’ actions “imperiled” that mitigation fund, arguing that he wasn’t sure what would become of the funding now. Legislators say they want to spend the cash on school districts along the pipeline’s route.

The governor also chided GOP legislators for another attempt to merge state elections and ethics boards, a move seen as curbing Cooper’s appointment powers. The state Supreme Court ruled in Cooper’s favor in an ongoing lawsuit over the boards, and a lower court is expected to decide soon how to proceed.

Cooper said this component of the bill is an “unconstitutional scheme.”

 

Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Class size omnibus passes easily, despite stiff opposition to Board of Elections, Atlantic Coast Pipeline provisions

Senate leader Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore

An omnibus bill alleviating some of the headaches associated with North Carolina’s class size crisis easily passed the state House by a 104-12 margin Tuesday, despite continuing opposition from top Democrats on its controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Board of Elections provisions.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who helped to assemble last week’s compromise conference report on House Bill 90, said the bill gives districts “much requested” time to prepare for the state’s new K-3 class sizes by phasing in its caps on average and maximum class size over the next four years.

The legislation, which also creates a $61 million recurring funding allocation for arts, music and physical education teachers, comes after years of mounting pressure on the Republican-dominated General Assembly to either ease their 2016 class size mandate or provide additional funding to save those so-called “enhancement” teaching positions.

As Policy Watch has detailed, local school districts would need to cough up millions or lay off scores of enhancement teachers to find space for the necessary new K-3 classroom teachers.

The legislation also modifies eligibility requirements for the GOP-backed, controversial Personal Education Savings Accounts and purports to provide sufficient funding to clear the waiting list for the state’s widely-backed, Pre-K program.

Multiple Republicans insisted this week and last that the revised House Bill 90, which was crafted behind closed doors, was a “bipartisan” measure.

“We do not have to be separated on this,” said Rep. Linda Johnson, the Cabarrus County Republican who co-chairs the chamber’s education and budget committees.

Yet, while many Democrats ultimately voted for the conference report because of its class size fix, some components of the omnibus bill clearly rankled minority party members in the House and Senate.

One section seeks to control spending from a $58 million environmental mitigation fund for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a fund that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office seeks to administer (Note: See the report today from Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg on the ACP).

Also, a separate portion seeks to merge state elections and ethics panels while curtailing Democrats’ majority on the appointed elections board. The N.C. Supreme Court struck down Republicans’ merger of the panels last month, and GOP lawmakers are seeking to author their own fix before it’s taken up by a lower court.

“This is a difficult vote to take, and it’s difficult because we’re voting on three separate matters,” said Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat who dubbed the package a “kitchen sink bill.”

Democrats also chafed over a lack of school construction funding in the measure.

“This bill does not address the needs in education that we know, Republicans and Democrats both know, are so necessary right now,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat.

Legislative Republicans countered that K-12 infrastructure is historically a local government funding matter in North Carolina. However, state House members have widely supported a statewide $2 billion school construction bond referendum, which would address a portion of the state’s estimated $8 billion in K-12 capital needs, but Senate lawmakers have not taken up the matter.

“Like in all bills, there’s always more work to be done,” said Horn. “I’m looking forward to your support on that more work.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

The bill will now proceed to Cooper’s office. Cooper seems likely to veto the bill due to its pipeline and elections portions, although the legislature has the votes to override the Democrat’s veto.

Some Democrats suggested Tuesday that, with state courts still deciding the fate of the legislature’s election board tinkering, the class size fix could be “held hostage” by the legal wrangling.

Rep. Darren Jackson, the House Democratic Leader, said the lack of a severability clause may nix the entire bill if courts find one portion unconstitutional, although a longtime General Assembly attorney cast doubt on that claim this week.


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