Senate committee advances controversial bill to restrict what can be taught in state’s schools

A controversial Republican-backed bill to restrict what can be taught in schools about America’s racial past crossed another hurdle Wednesday.

House Bill 324 received a favorable report from the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate. The Senate’s Education/Higher Committee gave the bill a favorable nod Tuesday.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, told colleagues that the bill doesn’t prohibit educators from teaching hard truths about America’s history.

“It does call for the limitation on promoting certain concepts,” Berger said, adding that the bill would prohibit teachers from “indoctrinating” students with what critics of public education contend is liberal political ideology.

When Sen. Paul Lowe, a Democrat from Forsyth County asked Berger why HB 324 is necessary, Berger explained that it addresses concerns parents have about what children are taught in schools.

“If you have witnessed what is taking place at school board meetings across the state, where parents and members of the public are coming forward expressing concern about [teacher] training sessions that are taking place, expressing concerns about some aspects of what these parents feel are indoctrination of their children; I think this bill is responding to those concerns that have been expressed by those parents,” Berger said.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, asked if the curricula adopted by the State Board of Education ensure teachers don’t stray off course.

“Aren’t they [state school board members] the ones who put the curriculum in place for the public schools?” Waddell asked.

Berger said that if the curricula don’t promote the concepts prohibited in HB 324, the bill wouldn’t impact it.

As presently drafted, HB 324 would ban the following concepts from being discussed in public school classrooms:

  • 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, sexist, or oppressive.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or 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 or her 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 form of psychological distress.
  • A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.
  • The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.
  • The United States government should be violently overthrown.
  • Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.
  • The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.
  • All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Several people spoke in favor of HB 324 when public comments were allowed. Most of the speakers also made remarks Tuesday during the Senate’s Education/Higher Education Committee meeting.

Natalya Androsova, a Wake County resident who moved to America from Russia 22 years ago, compared what’s being taught in America’s public schools to the communist propaganda she experienced while living in the Soviet Union.

Androsova said she withdrew her children from the public school system to homeschool them.

She said Critical Race Theory and Marxism are embedded in the curriculum.

“I can’t allow my child to absorb any of that drunk ideology because it destroys dignity or human beings,” Androsova said.

As Policy Watch reported last month, Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline from the world of higher education that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. CRT emerged in the legal academy in the 1980s as an offshoot of critical legal studies.

Jim Walsh, a Wake County resident, said the NC Department of Public Instruction is a “loose dog” that has failed to prevent teachers from indoctrinating students.

Walsh suggested that HB 324 be amended to require classrooms to be outfitted with cameras and teachers with body cameras like those worn by police officers.

“The teachers are no better than our policemen,” he said.

Editorial to state schools superintendent: Serve kids, not partisan politics

Catherine Truitt

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Truitt’s job is to stand with school children, not political patrons.” The essay sends a powerful reminder to the state’s still-newish state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Catherine Truitt, that she needs to rediscover the persona she projected early on in her tenure when she evinced a desire to avoid the destructive partisanship and rigid ideological nonsense that plagued her overmatched predecessor, Mark Johnson.

Sadly, as the editorial notes, Truitt’s recent endorsement of the desultory and pathetically inadequate state Senate budget proposal makes clear that will take some doing:

It is now quite clear that partisan politics is Catherine Truitt’s priority as North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. That is the only conclusion any reasonable observer can reach following her statement that the budget passed late last month by the state Senate “does so much to boost North Carolina’s public school system.”

Her priority, demonstrating fealty to Senate Leader Phil Berger and other legislative leaders, is misplaced.

As an independently elected statewide leader her focus should be, regardless of partisan leanings, on North Carolina’s public-school students, the concerns of their parents, the necessary instructional resources, welfare and working conditions of classroom teachers and support for educational staff and administrators.

As the editorial explains in great detail, the budget proposal for education is an outrage — especially at a moment in which the state continues to repeatedly violate court orders to provide all the state’s schoolchildren with access to a sound basic education. Again, here’s the editorial:

The courts used a professional, non-partisan process to come up with a workable and reasonable plan to remediate that problem. That program, however, is barely funded by the Senate – just 15% to 20% of the $1.6 billion required. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget would fully-fund the remediation plan.

How can anyone suggest that a 1.5% annual raise is appropriate for teachers who haven’t seen a raise in the last two years, much less a “show of appreciation for their tireless work carried on throughout COVID.” It is an insult particularly given the extraordinary extra effort teachers displayed on a routine basis through the pandemic – too often the unsung among the front-line workers.

After listing other ways in which the budget proposal comes up woefully short, the editorial offers this on-the-mark conclusion:

Legislative leaders don’t need any more cheerleaders.

But the school children of North Carolina do.

Truitt must stand up for the public schools – the students, teachers, staff and administrators — she was elected to lead.

Public schools and the state’s school children are being sold short in the Senate budget. It is Truitt’s job to say so and make sure it gets fixed.

Amen.

Click here to read the full editorial.

House passes bill seeking to lift mask mandate in NC schools

The N.C. House passed a bill seeking to give school boards the exclusive authority to determine whether students must wear face masks in the upcoming school year on Wednesday. 

Senate Bill 173, called the “Free the Smiles Act,” would strip away Governor Roy Cooper’s authority to  issue state-wide mask mandates for schools, leaving him with the ability to do so only for individual schools during a state of emergency. 

The Governor’s current executive order requires all students in public and nonpublic schools to wear face masks while indoors. On June 11, Cooper announced he would be extending the State of Emergency, saying that although the state has made massive strides in combating COVID-19, the emergency classification allows for easier access to federal relief funds. 

Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican, presented the bill to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Erin Paré, a Wake County Republican, added an amendment to the bill that would require all local school boards to take a vote on whether or not they will require face masks by August 1. If a school does require masks, they will have to revisit the issue every month and hold a vote on whether or not to keep them. 

“It’s supposed to increase transparency and communication with parents who are concerned about this issue,” Paré said. 

Two members of the public spoke in support of the bill, including Tracy Taylor, a physical therapist based in the triangle. 

“The most important thing that I want to explain to you all is that there have been so many studies and so much data that are in support of students not masking at all,” she said. 

Taylor was also a part of a “Free the Smiles” rally that was held outside the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services building on Wednesday.

“Bring your friends + signs to let Mandy Cohen know our kids don’t need to be masked at school,” she wrote on Twitter. 

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that over 4 million children in the U.S. had contracted COVID-19, but the mortality rate among infected children was between 0.00 percent – 0.03 percent. According to data from 23 states, between 0.1 percent – 1.9 percent of all child COVID-19 cases were severe enough to require hospitalization. 

In a press conference earlier this month, NCDHHS Director Mandy Cohen said that it’s important that children under 12, who are ineligible to get the vaccine, continue to wear masks in school.

“The CDC continues to recommend that those who are unvaccinated … wear a mask indoors. That includes the vast majority of our children who are in K-12 schools and that will continue until the guidance changes from the CDC,” she said.

Willis said that the bill is flexible enough to mitigate infection in schools while also loosening restrictions. 

“This still allows the governor to act on a school by school basis if necessary,” he said. “If there were something to come up where a different strain were to come through, or something were to happen, I’m sure we’d be happy to bring that back in front of this body for a larger discussion. But we’re comfortable with where it’s at today.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate.

UNC Hussman faculty denounce continued inaction on tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones

Faculty at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media spoke out in a written statement Friday as the deadline to avoid a federal discrimination lawsuit arrived with no action by school’s board of trustees.

“It seems apparent that the UNC Board of Trustees has again failed to review Nikole Hannah-Jones’s dossier for appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism with tenure, despite affirmation at all previous levels of rigorous review,” the faculty members wrote.

Thirty-seven UNC Hussman faculty members signed the statement, which called the board’s inaction “a blatant disregard for time-honored tenure procedures and for the university and Board of Trustees’ endorsed values of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

As Policy Watch first reported, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees decided to take no action on recommendations of tenure for Hannah-Jones from the faculty tenure committee, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin. Board members maintain the unusual move came as a result of conservative opposition to Hannah-Jones’s work. Among the high profile voices lobbying against Hannah-Jones behind the scenes was Walter Hussman, the Arkansas-based media magnate whose $25 million gift to the school led to it being named for him. In an interview with Policy Watch Hussman questioned the quality of the Hannah-Jones’s work, which has been awarded Pulitzer, Polk, Peabody and National Magazine Awards. He also mischaracterized an essay she wrote about the issue of reparations to Black Americans for slavery.

Hannah-Jones was offered the school’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Knight Chair professors at the school are media professionals, not academics, who bring their working knowledge of the industry to classrooms across the country. Previous Knight Chair professors at the school have all been granted tenure upon their appointment.

The school’s handling of the tenure decision has generated international headline and condemnation from a broad range of student, faculty and alumni groups. The Knight Foundation has urged the board to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, as have Knight Chair professors and journalism deans from across the country.

This week a prominent chemistry professor declined to come to UNC-Chapel Hill due to the controversy, as reported by Indy Week.

The president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has given the university more than $131 million, wrote to the chairman of the school’s board of trustees to ask for answers in the case and to call for the board to approve Hannah-Jones’s tenure.

Hannah-Jones herself has made few public statements on the controversy since her legal counsel put the university on notice that she would be filing a federal discrimination lawsuit if an unconditional offer of tenure wasn’t forthcoming by Friday.

On Friday morning she posted a photo on Twitter of the framed statement that arrived in the mail commemorating her induction into the North Carolina Media & Journalism Hall of Fame. The honor felt bittersweet under the current circumstances, she suggested.

NC’s governor lifts most statewide pandemic restrictions

Governor Roy Cooper

After months of reminding the public to mask-up and keep their distance, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that North Carolina would be lifting its gathering limits, social distancing requirements, and indoor mask mandate in most circumstances.

The news comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday a shift in federal guidelines, allowing fully-vaccinated Americans to shed their masks both indoors and outdoors.

“This is a big step forward in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” Gov. Cooper said.

There will continue to be an indoor mask requirement on public transportation, in childcare settings, schools, camps and in certain public health settings.

Just over 51% of the state is now partially vaccinated  and 45.5% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Click below to listen to the governor explain why they are making this change now:

The governor acknowledged that there are those who are unvaccinated who may use this as an excuse to stop taking safety precautions.

“Get vaccinated now. And if you won’t listen to me, ask your doctor. Do what your doctor tells you,” the governor urged.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department remains committed to its expansion strategy — making the vaccines readily available statewide.

State officials had hoped to lift the restrictions when 66% of North Carolinians had been partially vaccinated.

And while that milestone is still a long ways off, Cohen believes the state can reach its goal with the help of the business community.

HHS Sec, Mandy Cohen

“Some are offering incentives to their own employees to get vaccinated – time off, some are offering bonus pay,” said Dr. Cohen. “We’ve already heard about free donuts, free beer. I really appreciate businesses stepping forward and helping us raise awareness and incentivize folks getting a vaccine.”

Even with today’s shift, NCDHHS is recommending businesses post signage reminding guests to socially distance and wear a face covering if they are not fully vaccinated, and remind employees to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

It’s worth noting that businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks.

Masks will still be strongly recommended by the state for everyone at large crowded indoor gatherings such as sporting events and live performances.

And for the time being masks will be mandatory in schools.

“Just starting yesterday (Thursday) our 12-15 years are now eligible. They are starting to get vaccinated, but we know it is going to take some time. That still leaves a large population of our student body unvaccinated.”

Cohen said the state will follow the CDC’s guidance while working to get as many shots in arms as possible.

“This is a virus that has been with us for over a year now. It is going to continue to be with us,” she cautioned.

Click here to read Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 215 lifting many of the COVID mandates.