Education, News, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

WRAL: Records show racial tension, post-Trump feuds in North Carolina schools

Here’s a must-read: WRAL News has published a fascinating deep dive into campus racial tension and post-election feuds in a North Carolina school system.

The report, which draws on accounts collected by an Orange County Schools administrator, details ugly incidents in which students of color were harassed or threatened by their peers.

It captures student clashes over President Trump’s election, boasts by Trump supporters, threats of deportation leveled at Hispanic students, and it reports, in at least one instance, backlash against students perceived to be Trump supporters.

According to the report, school system leaders collected the stories as school board members considered a ban on clothing that displays the Confederate flag, as well as Nazi or KKK symbols.

From the WRAL report:

In May 2017, an assistant principal entered a boys’ bathroom at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County. There, scrawled on the wall, was a threat: “Kill all (racial slur).” He soon found similar graffiti in other bathrooms. Swastikas and slurs littered the walls.

A few months earlier, a Cedar Ridge High teacher heard a student yell “white power!” as they walked to the bus, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Back in her classroom, she found a swastika scratched into a desk in her classroom.

“You going to get deported,” a student told a classmate. The conversations were so upsetting to one student, they went home early.

During the 2016-17 school year, Orange County school leaders recorded 70 incidents at their middle and high schools involving racist threats, political feuds about Trump, clashes over the Confederate flag and other similar fights. They documented the incidents in a report known internally as the “confidential student-specific incidents data,” which noted the date, what happened and the consequences.

Orange County Board of Education members reviewed the document in closed session in May 2017 but didn’t release it publicly.

WRAL News requested a copy of the document this past spring after discovering it existed. Several months later, the school district released the five-page document with numerous redactions, citing student privacy. Of the 70 incidents, 16 are completely redacted and 24 are partially concealed.

The document has never been shared publicly until now. Its existence has prompted several questions: Why did Orange County Schools collect this data when other local school systems did not? Why did they not share it publicly? What did they learn from it? And why have they stopped collecting it?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said he and his staff collected the information during the 2016-17 school year at the request of the school board, and they discussed it privately in closed session later that school year.

“This wasn’t about the district hiding this information,” Wirt said. “It was about protecting the students that were on the particular document and providing our board with accurate information to help them make a really difficult decision.”

That difficult decision, Wirt said, was whether to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds.

Last August, the school board decided to ban all clothing depicting the Confederate flag, swastikas or any KKK related symbols or language. The decision came after months of pressure from parents and students who urged the school system to change its dress code.

Before making a decision, the board wanted an accurate count of issues stemming from the Confederate flag and racial and election-related incidents in schools, not just anecdotes from a handful of people, according to Wirt. The superintendent assigned the task of collecting the incidents to Jason Johnson, his executive director of schools.

“Basically, each [school] administrative team, they just kind of kept the incidents in a spreadsheet and then I just ran around and got it from them so I could collect it and put it all in one location,” Johnson said.

While the middle and high schools reported dozens of incidents, the elementary schools reported none, according to the superintendent.

“We reached out to our elementary principals and, at the time, honestly, we just weren’t seeing those same types of behaviors at the elementary level,” Wirt said.

After collecting the reports from middle and high schools, Johnson scanned the pages. The stories of students’ hateful language and actions saddened him but didn’t surprise him, he said. He was already aware of some of the stories through his work with the schools’ principals. But others were new.

“You know, I’m an African-American male, so I’m probably a little bit more hurt than anything,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just very painful that we have a few kids – and I do mean a few – that will say some of the things they said or do some of the things they’ve done. But I also know that’s an opportunity to teach.”

The stories didn’t surprise the superintendent, either.

“This is year 20 for me in public education. I was a high school principal for quite some time. I don’t know that surprise would be the right word,” Wirt said. “I honestly was probably most surprised by some of the responses and animation around the election, more than anything from the document.”

The records captured multiple feuds between students over the election of Trump and some displays of support for his victory.

One day after the election, four students walked the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School chanting “build a wall” within earshot of Hispanic students. That same day at Orange High School, a white student pulled into the parking lot with a Trump flag flying on the back of his truck. He got out and ran around the parking lot with the flag and a Trump mask on his face.

A few days after the election, a parent emailed Orange High School leaders regarding “a negative comment that a teacher had made about the type of people who voted for Trump.” And on a bus ride from C.W. Stanford Middle, a student called others “white crackers and Trump voters.”

In Johnson’s time leading schools, it has “never been this way around election time.”

“I don’t remember anything that compares to it,” he said. “I was a principal when we had the first black president, and we didn’t have anything like this.”

Read more

Education, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, slash for-profit college regulations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made no secret of their support of for-profit colleges.

Today, they’re taking the next step to cut regulations for such controversial programs, Politico reports.

According to the report, DeVos will do away with an Obama administration rule.

From Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Thursday to eliminate Obama-era regulations that were meant to cut off federal funding to low-performing programs at for-profit schools and other career colleges.

The Education Department unveiled a proposal to rescind the “gainful employment” regulation, which was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit education companies.

The goal of the rule, which took effect in 2015, was to make sure that students who graduate from for-profit schools or other career-oriented programs make enough money to repay their student loans. But the schools, and congressional Republicans, have long criticized the regulation as unfair and overly burdensome.

DeVos’ proposal to kill the regulation goes further than other draft plans circulated by the Trump administration. Previous proposals would have gutted the penalties associated with the rule, but they would have kept mandatory consumer disclosures by colleges to prospective students.

The Trump administration said it plans to update the Education Department’s College Scorecard website with expanded data about the outcomes of students who attend all colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The department plans to calculate and publish the earnings and debt levels of graduates broken down by individual academic programs.

The Scorecard website is not required by any law or regulation, so the Trump administration’s promise to expand the data published on it isn’t binding on the department.

Consumer groups and Democrats have already sharply criticized the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the rule as a giveaway to the for-profit college industry. They say they’re worried DeVos’ plan will open up billions of taxpayer dollars to low-performing colleges.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suingDeVos over her previous delays in enforcing the “gainful employment” rule.

The Education Department said it would accept public comments on the proposed elimination of the regulation for 30 days.

The department must publish a final regulation by Nov. 1 for it to take effect in July 2019.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Skimpy health insurance plans & pre-existing conditions are back under new Trump rule

Today the Trump administration issued a final rule allowing insurers to sell “short-term, limited-duration” health insurance policies that can last up to three years instead of the maximum allowable three months under current rules.

In the  rule, administration officials contort their words to explain what otherwise looks like an alternative fact:

“This final rule recognizes the role that short-term, limited-duration insurance can fulfill, while at the same time distinguishing it from individual health insurance coverage by interpreting ‘short-term’ to mean an initial contract term of less than 12 months and implementing the ‘limited-duration’ requirement by precluding renewals or extensions that extend a policy beyond a total of 36 months.”

But behind these somewhat comical linguistic gymnastics lie some very real dangers for patients, especially those with chronic health conditions. Short-term, limited-duration health plans are not considered “health insurance” under federal law, and as a result, they do not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act. In fact, these plans look a lot like the often all-but-useless private health plans that littered the individual market before the ACA reined in predatory and discriminatory insurance industry practices.

These plans can vary premiums based on age, gender, health status, and medical history. They can also deny coverage outright based on pre-existing conditions, refuse to cover any treatment for a pre-existing condition, or find ways to rescind your policy after you’ve incurred a claim.

The other ways they keep their premiums down is by offering bare-bones coverage in the first place. They usually exclude coverage for critical health services that consumers have come to expect their policies to cover. A recent study looked at short-term health plans sold in the Charlotte region and found that most of them didn’t cover benefits for prescription drugs, mental health services, or substance use disorder treatment. Not a single short-term health plan studied covered maternity care whatsoever.

A return to the pre-ACA days of health insurance is a return to the days of lifetime and annual limits on coverage. UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule Company, which offers short-term plans in North Carolina, imposes a per-person lifetime limit on covered benefits of $250,000 for many of its three-month plans. Asa result, any enrollee who develops a terminal or chronic condition or who has a premature child is left unprotected from catastrophic costs.

In a press release, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says, “These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system.” Even if that were true, allowing these policies to last for up to three years at a time creates an alternate market to the ACA in which insurers will market heavily to young and healthy enrollees, dupe them into buying bare-bones coverage with lower premiums, and ultimately make premiums for full-benefits, comprehensive coverage more expensive for the older and sicker enrollees who remain in ACA-compliant market. This isn’t about providing options—it’s about undermining the Affordable Care Act.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Blue Cross’ 2019 premiums would be 18 percent lower if not for ACA sabotage

For the first time in 25 years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is seeking to lower its premiums for individual health insurance coverage. Yesterday the company announced that it filed a request with state regulators for an average rate reduction of 4.1 percent across all health insurance plans that it will offer on the individual market in 2019.

While this is surely good news—especially for the small fraction of North Carolina enrollees who pay full price because they do not qualify for premium subsidies—it could have been much better news. Instead of seeking a 4.1 percent decrease, the company could have reduced rates by 22.1 percent if it weren’t for the political attacks on health care that have taken place in the past year.

After Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the summer of 2017, the Trump administration abruptly cut off payments that reimburse insurers for providing Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies to enrollees with low incomes, causing Blue Cross to raise its 2018 rates on North Carolinians by 14.1 percent to make up for the losses. In today’s announcement, Blue Cross notes that if those payments were still in place, “requested rates would be another 14 percent lower” in 2019. Premiums would have been an additional four percent lower if Congress hadn’t eliminated the individual mandate penalty as part of its massive tax break handout to corporate American and the wealthy in December.

While ACA sabotage has been Trump’s major health care policy approach, opponents of the ACA have long deliberately undermined the law and hurt the millions who benefit from it since before the days of Trump. In the early years of implementation, Congress defunded a program designed to stabilize the markets, leading to premium spikes and an exodus by insurers from the exchanges.

The North Carolina General Assembly has also embodied this “politics over people” health policy agenda, as they have rejected Medicaid expansion since 2013, leaving billions of federal dollars on the table that would help the state cover over 600,000 North Carolinians. Not only does that leave hundreds of thousands of our neighbors uninsured, but it also costs more for people who are insured with private coverage. In states that expanded Medicaid, private insurance premiums are lower by seven percent on average. This ongoing act of health care sabotage hurts all of us.

So, yes, Blue Cross’ rate reduction is good news, but that 4.1 percent decrease could have been a 22.1 percent decrease. Imagine how much more progress we could make if our state and federal lawmakers committed to improving health care for people instead of playing into politics.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump’s embrace of Putin would offend Jesse Helms

For many Americans, the late Jesse Helms is what they think of when they think of North Carolina. And for progressive North Carolinians, there are many, many good reasons to find an association with the utterly intolerant GOP figure objectionable.

That may be one reason you’re not likely to hear many kind words about the late senator on these pages, but Capitol Broadcasting Company has published an editorial this morning that asks: What would Helms, a staunch anti-communist, think of President Donald Trump’s gushing embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin this week?

Based on Helms’ comments in 2001, the longtime North Carolina Republican likely wouldn’t have had much nice to say about Trump, even as members of the national GOP today grapple with how to respond to the president’s disastrous trip to Helsinki this week.

From the Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial:

There has been much hand-wringing among conservatives on just how to respond to President Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin even as he distanced himself from his own government’s fundamental institutions.

To those who might be looking for guidance on how to react, they need not look any further than Jesse Helms, the godfather of the nation’s modern conservative political movement.

Much has changed since that pre-9-11 time. Most folks (except for our president) are 18 years to the wiser. They know that Putin’s government ordered and financed the meddling and attempted sabotage of the 2016 elections. All aimed to at least build distrust in our electoral process.

In 2001 then-President George W. Bush traveled to Europe for a series of meeting with allies and other international leaders, including Putin. Bush’s embrace of Putin wasn’t quite the gushing idolization that Trump expressed this week. But for the time, it was effusive. Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina and diehard anti-Communist, was alarmed by Bush’s initial chummy assessment of the Kremlin’s leader who’d been an ex-KGB operative.

“He’s an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family. We share a lot of values,” Bush said at a June 16, 2001 news conference with Putin.

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

Helms wouldn’t have any of it. Just a few days later, when then Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms didn’t mince his words of concern and caution. See and hear what Helms said.

Helms’ said:
“I would be misleading you if I did not admit to raising my eyebrows at the assertion that Mr. Putin is ‘trustworthy.’ A ‘remarkable leader,’ he was called. And a man with whom we ‘share common values.’ Now, I criticized officials from the previous administration for using nearly those precise words to describe Mr. Putin. And I was dumbfounded to hear them from mine.

“For we must not forget that under Mr. Putin’s leadership the press has once again felt the jackboot of repression. Arms control treaties obligations remain unfilled and violated. Dangerous weapons technologies have been transferred to rogue states and Georgia’s and Ukraine’s security has been threatened in brutal, indiscriminate military trampling in Chechnya remains unabated.

“For these reasons Mr. Putin is far, in my judgment, far from deserving the powerful political prestige and influence that comes from an excessively personal endorsement by the president of the United States.”

Helms’ stern warning about Putin proved right. Apparently those who seek to portray themselves as inheritors of his political legacy, like Trump, want more to benefit from Helms image than heed his warnings.

Bush eventually came around to Helms’ perspective. Earlier this year, in the wake of the revelations of the Russian meddling, he told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo that Putin “is a very aggressive person who wants to reinstate Soviet influence even though the Soviet no longer exists.”

Jesse Helm’s prescient words 18 years ago may still echo in the Capitol.

On this, at least, his would-be heirs in Congress should perk up their ears.