Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

Umpires told a high school softball player in Durham to remove beads from her braids or leave the game

Nicole wearing jersey No. 6.

Umpires asked a softball player for Durham’s Hillside High School to remove the beads attached to the end of her braids or leave the game.

With the help of teammates, Nicole Pyles, a sophomore, cut off the beads and eventually her braids to remain in the April 19 game against rival Jordan High School.

“Without being disrespectful, I asked the umpire, ‘You officiated games where I was wearing these braids and beads, so what is the issue?’” Nicole said in a statement. “My braids were not covering my number. I felt like the world was staring at me. Why me? Why anybody for that fact? It was embarrassing and disrespectful.”

Click here to see a video of Nicole discussing the incident. 

Under the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) Rule 3-2-5, which covers uniforms and player equipment for students participating in softball, “Plastic visors, bandannas and hair-beads are prohibited.”

The NC High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) is a member of the NFHS, which is the organization that helps provide uniform playing rules for high school athletics across the nation.

The umpire’s decision to ask Nicole to remove her braids or leave the game has raises questions about the cultural fairness of such rules.

The Durham City Council became the first in the state to pass an ordinance in January banning hair discrimination within the workplace when it approved the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act” or CROWN Act.  The ordinance does not cover students in educational settings.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) called for DPS and the NCHSAA to adopt policies to eradicate all forms of discrimination in schools and athletic events.

The organization noted that the General Assembly is weighing a statewide CROWN Act (Senate Bill 165), which it wants expanded to include protections in academic settings.

Nicole and her parents also asked DPS and the NCHSAA to adopt new policies to prohibit Black hair discrimination in schools.

“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, especially someone who looks like me,” Nicole said.

The family has requested formal apologies from the Jordan High coaching staff;  the umpires working the game and Mark Dreibelbis, supervisor of officials for the NCHSAA.

“The humiliation my child experienced could have, and should have, been avoided,” said Julius Pyles, said Nicole’s father. “A level of professionalism should have resolved this situation so that no child, regardless of color, while under adult supervision, would experience discrimination because of their hairstyle.”

Durham Public Schools said Rule 3-2-5 is “culturally biased” in a statement sent to Policy Watch.

“Durham Public Schools is actively investigating the circumstances at the April 19 Hillside-Jordan softball game in which a game official required a student-athlete to remove beads in her hair,” the statement said. “The player cut her hair to comply. Durham Public Schools recognizes that the National Federation of State High School Associations has a specific rule (rule 3-2-5) against hair-beads, however DPS believes this rule is culturally biased. DPS is continuing to investigate the enforcement of this rule in this circumstance.”

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said coaches are responsible for ensuring athletes abide by playing rules.

“We empathize with the student athlete and her experience,” Tucker said. “It is truly unfortunate, as we believe this situation should never have occurred. The NCHSAA expectation is that coaches will know the playing rules and ensure that their players are also aware of them prior to participating in any athletic contest.”

Tucker added: “This is not a new rule and when the violation was noticed by an umpire, the proper determination of illegal equipment was verified as supported by NFHS Rule,” Tucker said. “Further, according to NFHS Softball Rule 3-5-1, prior to the start of a contest, it is the responsibility of each coach to verify to the plate umpire that all his or her players are legally equipped, and that players and equipment are in compliance with all NFHS rules.”

House bill could restrict what students learn about nation’s racial history

State Rep. James Gailliard (Center)

North Carolina joined a growing list of states Tuesday pushing legislation that could restrict how America’s racial history is taught in schools.

House Bill 324, which the House Education Committee approved on a voice vote, prohibits schools from promoting concepts that suggest America is racists and that people are inherently racist or sexist, whether consciously or unconsciously.

HB 324 also prohibits teachers from promoting the concept that anyone is responsible for the sins of their forefathers.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

“It ensures dignity and non-discrimination in school,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican who introduced the bill and co-chairs the Education Committee.

The bill doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped the nation’s legal and social systems. The concept is mentioned in a press release posted on House Speaker Tim Moore’s webpage.

“The legislation would not prevent Critical Race Theory or any other concept or materials from being discussed in schools, so long as the public school unit makes clear that it does not sponsor, approve, or endorse such concepts or work,” the press release said.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt endorsed the bill in a statement posted on Moore’s webpage.

“This is a common-sense bill that provides reasonable expectations for the kind of civil discourse we want our children to experience in public schools,” Truitt said. “This “golden rule” approach ensures that all voices are valued in our school system.”

Truitt said the goal is to encourage students to think freely and to respect differences of opinions.

“Classrooms should be an environment where all points of view are honored,” Truitt said. “There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.”

Shortly before the Education Committee’s vote, Rep. James Gailliard, a Democrat from Nash County, pushed back on HB 324, which he called an “anti-education bill.”

“This is an act to ensure discrimination, fanaticism, bigotry,” Gailliard said. “This is really a don’t hurt my feelings bill, don’t tell me the truth about our history because it might hurt my feelings.”

Gailliard said bill supporters do a disservice to North Carolina’s children by hiding the truth about the nation’s checkered racial past.

“This is a bill of hatred, this is a bill of classism, this a bill of privilege, this is a bill of fragility and has no place in North Carolina’s General Assembly,” he said.

Min. Paul Scott, a Durham activist who often speaks out on issues involving race, called the bill “academic Apartheid” and “classroom colonization.”

Scott said  parents, teachers and others must create an “African American Truth Commission” to challenge attacks on Critical Race Theory.”

“They are trying to make the South rise again,” Scott said. “Not on our watch.”

Here’s a look at what the bill would prohibit teachers from promoting:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexists, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of her race or sex.
  • An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other former of psychological distress.
  • The belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.

The language in the North Carolina bill is a lot like that in a Texas bill – House Bill 3979 — introduced by Republicans that also takes aim at Critical Race Theory. The Texas bill prohibits teaching the idea that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” based on their race or sex.”

North Carolina Republicans have moved to restrict what students are taught in classrooms about America’s racial history.

Last week, House Republicans introduced House Bill 755 that would require teachers to post educational material prominently on school websites.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, said HB 755 will improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

But Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, believes it will alert parents when teachers attempt to indoctrinate students with political views or teach critical race theory.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

Student indoctrination has been a popular theme in the state’s GOP circles since the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards in February.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson criticized the new standards and quickly assembled a task force to end what he calls the political indoctrination of students in classrooms.

Black Democrats took Robinson to task in January after he called the standards “divisive” and “politically charged” and claimed systemic racism doesn’t exist. Robinson is the state’s first Black lieutenant governor

This year, Republican legislatures across the nation have introduced bills that would restrict educators’ ability to teach about systemic racism, sexism, bias and similar topics.

In Tennessee, the House of Representatives debated a bill this week that would ban classroom discussions about systemic racism. The state would withhold funding to schools that taught about systemic racism and white privilege under the bill.

The Tennessee House approved the bill along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of it while Democrats opposed it. The Senate, however, declined to accept the legislation.

Republican-led legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho and other states have introduced similar bills.

GOP lawmakers are searching for a problem that doesn’t exist, said Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress.

“Talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia doesn’t create racism, sexism, or homophobia; neither does centering the voices of people most affected by systemic forms of bias in academic instruction,” Harris said. “To the contrary, this approach empowers students to leave the classroom with a more informed understanding of our history, people’s lived experiences, and how they can limit the influence of bias in their own lives.”

Legislation to make services for children with autism more accessible a step closer to becoming law

Image: Adobe Stock

A bill to make treatment of people with autism more accessible in North Carolina is headed to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for his signature.

House Bill 91 removes the requirement that behavior analysts working in the state must be supervised by licensed psychologists. It was unanimously approved by the House on Monday. The bill also received unanimous support in the Senate.

Bill supporters and those who supported a companion bill, Senate Bill 103, say removing the restriction will make the state more attractive to behavior analysts.

There are only 62 psychologists to oversee the work of roughly 680 people who could provide care for the state’s 65,000 children with autism, according to State Sen. Jim Perry, a Republican from Kinston, who co-sponsored SB 103.

Rep. John Bell, a Republican from Goldsboro, co-sponsored HB 91.

The rural parts of the state need more behavior analysts trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA), a type of therapy that can improve social, communication and learning skills in children with autism through positive reinforcement.

Kyle Robinson and his wife Bobbie created Aces for Autism in 2014, three years after son Samuel was diagnosed with autism. The nonprofit serves children with autism in Pitt County, where there is a dearth of such facilities. Bobbie and Samuel had driven 200 miles to Winston-Salem to receive the services Samuel needed.

“Before we had autism impact us directly, we really didn’t know the various issues that families with children with autism have,” Robinson shared with Policy Watch in March.

Robinson, the director of basketball operations at East Carolina University in Greenville, shared this celebratory tweet Monday:

Teacher ‘busy work bill’ heads to Senate as opposition mounts

The House has approved a bill requiring school districts with more than 400 students to post educational materials used by teachers “prominently” on school websites. The Senate is expected to hear House Bill 755 next week.

The House approved the so-called Academic Transparency bill late Wednesday on a 66-50 vote with Republicans voting in favor of it and 50 Democrats voting against it. One Republican, Matthew Winslow, who represents Franklin and Nash counties, voted against the bill.

The bill requires teachers to post textbooks and other reading materials as well as videos, digital materials and other applications used in classrooms on school websites. It also requires them to post lesson plans from the previous year.

Teachers would post educational materials at the end of the school year so parents can review them before the next academic year starts. The posted information would be a list of instructional materials with identifying information, but not include copies of the material.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell

Bill sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, contends HB 755 will improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

“This is a bill to try and take better advantage of what research, I think establishes, works very well for children and that is the involvement and engagement of their parents in their education,” Blackwell said. “The idea is to make a way for parents to, without having to go to the schoolhouse, without having to go to school officials, be able to go online and see what is being offered in their students’ classes.”

Critics say HB 755 is a veiled attempt to prevent students from learning hard truths about slavery, racial discrimination and systemic racism. The bill comes after the controversial adoption of new state social study standards that require teachers to offer diverse viewpoints when discussing American history.

Rep. Kandie Smith

“All of this is based on we don’t want our kids to learn a certain part of history, which is very troubling to me,” said State Rep. Kandie D. Smith, a Democrat from Pitt County. “History is what you can’t erase. Whether you want your kid to learn it in school or not, you can’t erase it.”

The NC Association of Educators opposes the bill, calling it a slap across the face with debate about it coming during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

“This completely unnecessary and unimaginably burdensome law would require teachers and school districts to post online a comprehensive list of all teaching, classroom and assignment materials used by every teacher in every class session,” the NCAE said in a message to teachers.

The association launched a letter writing campaign demanding that the Senate vote against HB 755.  More than 2,000 letters have been sent to lawmakers. The NCAE set a goal of 3,200 letters.

“Tell the Senate that North Carolina will not stand for yet another law that disrespects teachers and further undermines their ability to do their jobs,” the NCAE said of the bill it renamed the “BusyworkBill.”

Rep. Zach Hawkins, a Democrat from Durham, a former teacher, said information about what students are learning in classrooms is already widely available.

Teachers must already produce lesson plans, create syllabi and follow the state Standard of Course of Study, Hawkins said.

“How will this bill help elevate the conversation about what’s already being taught when its already public,” Hawkins said.

While Blackwell touts the bill as a benefit to parents to help bolster academic achievement, Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, believes it will alert parents when teachers attempt to indoctrinate students with political views or teach critical race theory.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

Student indoctrination has been a popular theme in the state’s GOP circles since the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards in February.

The standards were heavily criticized by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson who quickly assembled a task force to end what he calls the political indoctrination of students in classrooms.

Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, was taken to task by Black Democrats in January after he called the standards “divisive” and “politically charged” and claimed systemic racism doesn’t exist.

This year, Republican legislatures across the nation have introduced bills that would restrict educators’ ability to teach about systemic racism, sexism, bias and similar topics.

In Tennessee, the House of Representatives debated a bill this week that would ban classroom discussions about systemic racism. The state would withhold funding to schools that taught about systemic racism and white privilege under the bill.

The Tennessee House approved the bill along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of it while Democrats opposed it. The Senate, however, declined to accept the legislation.

Republican-led legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho and other states have introduced similar bills.

Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, said GOP lawmakers are searching for a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia doesn’t create racism, sexism, or homophobia; neither does centering the voices of people most affected by systemic forms of bias in academic instruction,” Harris said. “To the contrary, this approach empowers students to leave the classroom with a more informed understanding of our history, people’s lived experiences, and how they can limit the influence of bias in their own lives.”

Harris said the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the numerous media platforms available to extremist to spread “lies and dangerous ideologies” make it critical to tell children the truth about the nation’s past.

“It is more important than ever that our schools do not equivocate in discussing our history and the difference between right and wrong,” Harris said.

Harris added that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal civil rights law, requires schools to offer rigorous and effective instruction.

“Imposing a gag order that requires educators to teach false content or that bars them from discussing racism in schools that were segregated less than seven decades ago, some having returned to being segregated today—and that, to this day, suspend students of color at disproportionate rates—makes that impossible,” she said.

Academic transparency bill would require teachers to share lesson materials on school websites

Rep. Hugh Blackwell

House Republicans fired another volley in the state’s simmering culture war Wednesday with the approval of a bill that requires school districts and charter schools with more than 400 students to post educational materials used by teachers “prominently” on school websites.

Under House Bill 755, which is also known as the Academic Transparency bill, the burden of listing textbooks and other reading materials as well videos, digital materials and other applications used in classrooms would fall to teachers. It also requires teachers to post lesson plans from the previous year.

Teachers would post educational materials at the end of the school year so parents can review them before the next academic year starts. The information posted would be a list of instructional materials with identifying information, but not include copies of the material.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, believes HB 755 will improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

“I think it may be pretty well established over many years that where parents are actually active and engaged in their children’s education, that their children have better outcomes,” said Blackwell, a former member of the Burke County Board of Education.

Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, thinks the bill will provide another benefit, which he shared with the House K-12 Education Committee.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

Charges that teachers are indoctrinating students with liberal political views has been a reoccurring theme among Republican politicians since the State Board of Education approved new social standards requiring diverse viewpoints in lessons.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has been vocal in his opposition to the new standards. The state’s first black lieutenant governor has created a task force to end what he calls the political indoctrination of students in classrooms.

Rep. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat, warned that teachers will resist documenting and posting educational materials on school websites.

“You’re going to get a lot of opposition to this bill just based on the workload that it’s going to require,” Meyer said.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction and school districts already allow educational materials used in schools to be reviewed, Meyer said.

“Now, this is just a whole other level of burden on top.” Meyer said. “I think it’s going to make teachers feel overburdened. This feels like a heavy-handed element of government … Big Brother wants to know what you’re looking at.”

Kelly Mann, a Wake County parent and former educator, spoke in support of the bill, touching on the indoctrination theme in her remarks.

Mann said she is concerned about unlimited online resources teachers share with students. She said the materials often do not align with parents’ values or the adopted state curriculum.

“Everyone benefits from this bill,” Mann argued. “Parents may help prepare their students. This is a great collaborative effort to teachers and educators to find other resources that are effectively being used across the state and posting them and making them available to their colleagues.”