Commentary, Education

NC must act now to harness the opportunity COVID presents in public education

COVID-19 has brought tremendous hardships to North Carolina, but it also presents our state with an opportunity to address persistent inequalities.

North Carolina maintains a healthy rainy day fund and has received billions of federal dollars in COVID-19 related stimulus funds. State leaders should use these resources to make long overdue and legally required investments in education that are crucial to our economic recovery. The good news is we can use these funds to support programs that have a track record of success.

Few issues in the world of public education present a greater challenge than the persistent and wide disparities in quality. Leandro v. State of North Carolina, a 1997 state Supreme Court case, twice confirmed North Carolina has failed to meet its constitutional obligation of providing a “sound, basic education” for all students. By law, the state is required to identify and implement recommended changes to the public education system this year.

In 2019, an outside consulting firm summarized, in a lengthy report, ways for the state to comply with the Leandro ruling. The so-called “Leandro report” recommended increased state investment in teachers because a high-quality teacher contributes most to a student’s academic success. COVID-19 provides the state an opportunity to meet the Leandro requirements through innovative and cost-effective practices.

For example, North Carolina should entice recent college graduates, struggling in this economy, to find employment as teachers by waiving certification fees and adding bonuses for highly qualified and diverse individuals to start teaching in high-needs districts or subjects. When Florida waived teacher certification exam fees in April, more than 30,000 individuals registered for the exam in a single month.

The state could also host virtual career fairs for prospective and current teachers who may be interested in school specialist or administrative careers. Organizations have long used virtual career fairs to connect with qualified candidates all over the country. With more individuals searching for jobs online during the COVID-19 quarantine, the state could attract those who may not have considered teaching otherwise.

COVID-19 also presents a unique opportunity to establish a robust, online professional development system that can be used beyond the quarantine to support a more effective educator workforce. South Carolina, for example, facilitates online mentorship for student teachers working to earn their degree during the pandemic.   Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Congressional Black Caucus to push for substantive police reforms following George Floyd’s death, recent protests

U.S. Representatives G.K. Butterfield (NC-1)

As demonstrators continued to take to the streets to push for change, North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield vowed his colleagues will be pushing just as hard for change in Congress.

Butterfield said his life experience has taught him that the police are “absolutely necessary in our communities,” but the country is demanding responsible police officers and accountability.

Butterfield said that members of the Congressional Black Caucus are assembling a package of legislation to present to Democratic House leadership in the next few days that addresses everything from qualified immunity to the use of chokeholds.

“Right now police officers have qualified immunity and that’s why I believe many of them engage in this outrageous behavior,” explained Butterfield.”If we could create a situation where they could be held accountable in civil court and account for damages, then I believe we will see better conduct.”

U.S. Representatives Alma Adams (NC-12)

Another proposal being floated would be the creation of a nationwide database that identifies trends, to prevent an officer who gets fired for excessive force from simply getting a job with another department in another county or another state.

Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) joined Butterfield in demanding reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

She said she was especially troubled to see law enforcement using tear gas against demonstrators in her own district.

“I’m just appalled at these chemical agents they are using. I think it’s just creating a larger problem,” said Rep. Adams, who would like to see use of the gas banned.

A vote on the proposed legislation could come at the end of June.

Both Adams and Butterfield also criticized President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis on Wednesday, which has disproportionately affected black communities in North Carolina.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services, African Americans make up 22% of North Carolina’s population but have accounted for 35% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

“The truth is that at every step along the way, the Trump administration has ignored the racial disparities of this crisis. In particular, minority owned-businesses in districts like mine in Eastern North Carolina have been devastated by this pandemic. They have asked for help from the federal government, and they have been ignored,” said Butterfield.


Raleigh City Council meeting attendees ask for accountability, resignations of mayor and police chief

The Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce, also known as Raleigh PACT, engaged in a peaceful sit-in outside last night’s City Council meeting.

“We will be reviewing their demands,” said Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin at the beginning of the meeting.

To begin to meet those demands, Baldwin said the council approved a virtual community meeting for Thursday, June 4 at 7 p.m., as well as racial equity training for all council members. City council members also requested an internal review of the Raleigh Police Department’s response to the protests this past weekend, despite objections from City Council member Patrick Buffkin during yesterday’s afternoon meeting.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, one resident, Richard Johnson, explicitly criticized Baldwin.

“Our mayor was asleep on the job Saturday night while Raleigh was burning. Add that to her growing list of failures,” said Johnson. The “failures” he mentioned included “letting heavily armed white supremacists march freely downtown while heavily policing nonviolent protesters” and “failing to get a robust police review board set up.”

Johnson called for Baldwin to resign from the mayorship.

Jordan Zhang, on the other hand, called for Baldwin to resign from her new position as the director of business development at Barnhill Contracting Company.

“Taking on this job takes away Baldwin’s focus from leading, which is imperative given the climate,” said Zhang, a 17-year-old who gave her statement on behalf of Young Americans Protest (YAP).

She and Caroline Butler, who is also a member of YAP, listed a series of demands, including an “amendment to RPD’s directives that would control the overpolicing of black and brown communities,” reducing “the increased presence of police in black and brown communities,” the passing of “local restrictions that would limit the the use of military weapons by the RPD,” and “the immediate prohibition of physical escalation and violence as a means of disciplinary action.”

“We demand city council to never again vote to increase funding for the sole purpose of the militarization of law enforcement,” Butler said. “Rather than investing in the RPD, we call for the city council to instead relocate funds toward essential community services and programs that would work to actively address the underlying causes of crime.”

She mentioned several services and programs: Read more

News, race

Statement from the NC Justice Center

RALEIGH (June 3, 2020) – In this unparalleled, existential moment, it is essential we hear and listen to the cries of the people in the streets, understanding the genesis of the pain and outrage.

Let’s be clear. Our nation’s wealth and power were built upon a brutal history of slavery and colonization. The violence that many people, especially people of color, have suffered for centuries has directly led us to this watershed moment. The undeniable, systemic racism that led to the horrific murder of George Floyd, as so many before him, has also created patent and dramatic disparities in income, education, health, and working and housing conditions which threaten the very lives of people of color, especially Black people, in North Carolina.

Excessive use of force by police is but one of a long list of brutalities inflicted on the innocent by the machinery of an unequal, polarized, and divided society. Evidence of this truism is found everywhere (if we simply remove the silver from the glass and just look). Black Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. The unemployment rate of Black workers is twice as high as for whites. The poverty rate for Black Americans is twice that of whites. Public schools serving students of color are disproportionately underfunded and have operated for decades in an unconstitutional manner in North Carolina. The odds of dying from pregnancy related complications are almost three times higher for Black women than for white women. Now, with all of these systemic defects laid thread bare, the death rate due to COVID-19 is twice as high as for patients of color as that of white patients. So people are in the streets why isn’t everyone?

As an organization committed to eradicating poverty by advocating for public policies that uplift people and begin to close the disparities fueled by racism and poverty, we understand the anger and frustration of the protests in North Carolina. Now is the time, particularly for white people calling themselves allies, to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Why aren’t we all angry at the injustice and societal inequity that traumatizes our friends and neighbors of color and divides us as a nation? We must be ready to be brave, courageous, and compassionate enough to change the future of our people. For if not now, when? We recognize that we are united in a common life, in which our relationships to and with one another are what will transform our world—for good or for ill. In this moment, we face a choice about what type of transformation we will embrace.

We condemn any escalation of violence by police and support demands for police accountability and reform. Responding with tear gas, riot gear, rubber bullets, and a heavily militarized police force only leads to further harm and distrust.

We stand in solidarity with the rallying cry that Black Lives Matter. We can no longer accept a society built on white supremacy, where Black and Brown people are diminished, disenfranchised, and devalued.

We also recognize that we are one of many organizations releasing statements calling for change, for action, for solidarity when many of our institutions must take an important first step: reckoning. Like much of the nonprofit sector, those in power at our organization are overwhelmingly white people, and we have struggled to dismantle the systems of white privilege in our own internal operations. This is a difficult, but in this moment, much needed admission. In doing so, we stand with renewed resolve to address this issue. We are continuing to work with external racial equity consultants and an internal racial equity working group, developing a diversity and inclusion hiring and retention plan, and offering racial equity training to our staff, management, and governing board.

The time for silence and inaction is over. Words are no substitute for deeds. We can no longer abrogate our responsibility, one to each other. We must open our eyes and our hearts, use our mouths and our minds, and make the promise one does to those one loves, to make for a better life for everyone. No more silence. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever again. By any of us.



State Board of Education takes on racism in response to civil unrest

State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis (Left) and SBE members James Ford (Right)

Racism is a “social pandemic” in conflict with the nation’s founding principle that “all are created equal,” State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said Wednesday.

Davis made his comments in response to ongoing civil unrest in American cities over the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer.

The chilling video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee planted lethally on Floyd’s neck has sparked outrage across the nation and throughout the world.

Chauvin was initially arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The murder charge was upgraded to second-degree on Wednesday.

Three other officers involved in the incident were also charged Wednesday. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng each face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

The fact that the three were not immediately charged in Floyd’s death has been a flashpoint for protesters nationwide who have taken to the streets for more than a week to voice anger over Floyd’s death and the deaths of myriad unarmed blacks killed by police.

Davis said the nation has suffered under the disease of systemic racism for far too long.

“Like COVID-19, which is seemingly invisible, which can be carried, transmitted and received unknowingly, inequity and racism are in the air we breathe,” Davis said. “And like COVID-19, we must first mitigate its spread and ultimately vaccinate ourselves and remove it from our society.”

Ridding the nation of racism will take more than a show of empathy toward those who suffer under its crushing weight, Davis added.

“It will take intentional, determined, relentless commitment and work from all of us, especially those of us who are white, in positions of power and leadership, to end the social pandemic,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was an emotional one for the board, which has made racial equity the center piece of its five-year strategic plan.

SBE member James Ford said the board must root out racism and inequity wherever it is found.

“We are duty-bound, not to personally absolve ourselves of allegations of racism, but to deliberately be anti-racists in our approach to our work, and that is to cleanse this institution of every vestige of white supremacy that exists,” Ford said.

Ford also said those “put off” by the destruction of property during protests over Floyd’s death are missing the point.

“I understand some of that recoiling, but speaking as a black person, to a people who once themselves were considered property, you’ve got to understand how that prioritization sounds to us,” Ford said.

He said we now have an opportunity to improve schools, build a better state and nation.

“We have to reconcile our foundational flaws before we move forward,” Ford said.

Matthew Bristow-Smith, the 2019 Principal of the Year from Edgecombe County who serves as an SBE adviser, said the state’s public schools can either perpetuate inequity and racism or “ameliorate and fix” systems that marginalize some children.

“While we’ve been looking this week at what’s been happening around the world, we must also look within and we must also look at us,” said Bristow-Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School “We’ve got to hold a critical lens, Mr. Chairman [Davis], not only to our society and to our schools but to ourselves as individuals. This can’t be a Black movement. It’s got to be a human movement.”

Bristow-Smith sobbed after mentioning Floyd’s name and also while calling the names ofBblack male SBE members and advisers.

Mariah Morris, reigning North Carolina Teacher of the Year, asked teachers to be conscious of bias that impedes the academic, social and emotional development of students.

“Let’s work to make sure we are not promoting any form of institutional or personal racism in our classrooms,” said Morris, now the innovation and special projects coordinator for Moore County Schools.

Tabari Wallace, the 2018 Principal of the Year and SBE adviser, noted that self-actualization— the act of achieving one’s full potential — sets atop Abraham Maslow’s five-tier model of human needs.

People of color are often prevented from reaching their full potential because they have difficulty meeting the basic needs defined in Maslow’s model due to systemic racism, Wallace said. The needs include food and water, safety, love and esteem, he said.

“How can you ever become self-actualized without obtaining all of those building blocks?” asked Wallace, the principal of West Craven High School.

SBE member J.B. Buxton reminded the board that it held its annual planning meeting on the N.C. A&T University campus where in 1960 four students set a powerful example by leading sit-ins to desegregate the lunch counter at the Woolworth department store.

“I do believe we stand on the shoulders of those students from A&T who were big enough to meet that moment in 1960, and now we have that challenge ourselves,” Buxton said.

SBE vice Chairman Alan Duncan offered this apology to board members and advisers of color:

“To my colleagues of color on this board and to the advisers on this board, I am sorry for the suffering that you and your brothers have endured over the lifetime of our country. I miss being with you, especially at a time like this and very much look forward to embracing you literally when we’re able to reunite in person.”