Archives for category: North Carolina

Justin Parmenter, an NBCT teacher in North Carolina, published this article in the Charlotte Observer.

As COVID-19 rates skyrocket in North Carolina and more educators lose their lives to the virus, an unmistakable trend is starting to emerge: school districts falling all over themselves to claim the infected employee didn’t get the virus at work.

When Stanly County teacher Julie Davis died last month, superintendent Vicki Calvert quickly issued a statement saying, “there is no information from the local health department indicating Mrs. Davis contracted the COVID-19 virus from any staff member or student on campus.” 

Davis’s family spoke of her extreme vigilance in avoiding situations where infections could occur, wearing a mask whenever out of the house and doing all of her shopping by curbside and drive-through. She was apprehensive about returning to school because of the increased risk but did so anyway.

Julie Davis got sick at the end of September and passed away on October 4. Her brother said Davis was convinced she got the virus at school. A student who attended the school (not one of hers) had tested positive, and she was unaware of any other time she would have been in the same space with someone who had COVID-19.

Just a week after Davis passed away, Stanly County Schools was forced to close to in-person instruction due to out-of-control COVID-19 infections in the community and in the schools.

The school’s superintendent said school officials didn’t believe Ward contracted the virus at work. However, her daughter said, “We don’t really know [where she got the virus] because she never really went out. She definitely wore her mask, she definitely hand sanitized. She did everything the CDC told us to.”

On Monday, Winston-Salem teacher assistant Teresa Gaither passed away after serving students at Easton Elementary for 23 years. A school spokesman wouldn’t confirm the cause but was eager to explain that she didn’t get it at work, saying, “At this time, the Forsyth County Department of Public Health has given WS/FCS no indication that Ms. Gaither’s cause of death was related to her employment.” Her colleagues confirmed that Gaither died of COVID-19.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where the district has just begun reporting COVID-19 infections by school, a WBTV report this week said school officials “do not believe students and staff are testing positive because they are back inside the classroom. They say students (and) staff and getting sick from circumstances outside of the school.” 

Here’s what public relations-minded school districts are implying when they claim that a COVID-19 infection had nothing to do with school: Somewhere, somehow that individual made a careless error which led to their illness. It had nothing to do with insufficient safety protocols, asymptomatic carriers, or a lack of resources.

There’s nothing to see here, folks. Mask up and wash your hands, everyone. Just lean in and we’ll be fine.

Could we please have the decency to admit that, in many of these cases, we have no idea where they got it? While it is possible these educators contracted the virus outside of school, it’s just as likely that they didn’t. We simply don’t know.

What we do know about this virus is that the only way to truly stay safe from it is to avoid crowded public places, perform regular disinfection and ensure proper ventilation and clean air flow when we must share space with others. Those conditions are hard to come by in a public school.

These educators who have lost their lives during the pandemic have been forced to choose between increasing their risk of infection by returning to in-person instruction and not being able to feed their kids or pay their mortgage.

Many of our educators have been vocal in calling for a return to school only when we can be reasonably certain it’s safe, with maximum social distancing, effective contact tracing, safe HVAC systems and sufficient staff. In far too many cases they’ve been forced back to the classrooms they love with none of those things.

In light of their dedication to serving our children despite a raging pandemic, it’s the least we can do to stop blaming our educators for getting COVID-19.


Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article247165609.html#storylink=cpy

Thomas Ultican took a close look at spending on education technology in North Carolina and was shocked by what he learned.

He begins:

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”…

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

There’s more, much more, and it’s all unsavory.

This is an outrage. Trump’s Brownshirts harass the Biden campaign, engage in voter intimidation, block major thoroughfares—without penalty.

Now this:

GRAHAM, N.C. — The voters came in black sweatshirts emblazoned with the mantra of the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who celebrated “good trouble.”


Fists and iPhones raised, they chanted “Black lives matter” and promised “power to the people,” as they made their way from a Black church to the base of a monument to a Confederate soldier. In its shadow, they paused for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, honoring George Floyd, the Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for what was later determined to be 7 minutes and 46 seconds.


The participants in Saturday’s “I Am Change” march had intended to conclude at an early-voting site to emphasize turnout in the final days of the presidential campaign.

Those plans were thrown into disarray when law-enforcement officers in riot gear and gas masks insisted demonstrators move off the street and clear county property, despite a permit authorizing their presence.


As tensions escalated, officers deployed pepper spray and began making arrests. Among those caught in clouds of the irritant were children as young as 3 years old, as well as elderly residents and a disabled woman, said participants in the march.


The episode, which was live-streamed on Facebook by the march’s organizer, the Rev. Greg Drumwright of nearby Greensboro, unfolded three days before an election that feels to many Americans like the edge of an abyss. It capped nearly a half-year of protests after the killing of Floyd. And it reflected efforts to channel indignation on the street into power at the ballot box in North Carolina, a critical battleground state, and other places deciding the country’s direction.


“

The world wants to know what’s going on in Alamance County,” Drumwright said, invoking the rallying cry of anti-Vietnam War activists.
His outrage was echoed by state and national leaders, including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who called the incident “unacceptable.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law described the police response as a form of voter suppression.
In a statement, the Graham Police Department said its officers had made eight arrests, arguing that force had been justified by the refusal of demonstrators to disperse after the gathering had “reached a level of conduct that led to the rally being deemed unsafe and unlawful by unified command.”


The department also defended the deployment of what it called a “pepper-based vapor,” saying its officers did not “directly spray any participant in the march” — an account at odds with the statements of numerous participants.


The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office issued a one-line tweet, saying, “Unfortunately the rally in Graham ended due to concerns for the safety of all.” The office has previously faced scrutiny for what the Justice Department in 2012 called “discriminatory policing,” leading to a civil rights lawsuit against Terry S. Johnson, the county sheriff.

After a Republican-appointed federal judge dismissed the suit, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the case in exchange for revisions. Since then, Johnson has twice won reelection, both times running unopposed.


In August, a U.S. district judge in the Middle District of North Carolina blocked county officials, including Johnson, from prohibiting protests in certain areas around the county courthouse in response to a lawsuit brought by the Lawyers’ Committee and the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

I have written in the past about why Jen Mangrum would be a superb State Superintendent in North Carolina. She is an experienced teacher and teacher educator. She knows what teachers need to succeed. She has been endorsed by the state teachers’ association. She is also courageous. In 2018, she ran against the most powerful state legislator, Phil Berger.

Now a few words about her opponent, Catherine Truitt. North Carolina teacher Justin Parmenter reveals that Truitt received the maximum allowable donation from a millionaire who hates public schools and teachers. He has founded a string of charter and private schools. He thinks that public schools are hotbeds of Marxism where teachers “feed poison” to their students.

Follow the money. Vote for Jen Mangrum.

Since 2010, North Carolina has been controlled by radical Tea Party extremists intent on privatizing and monetizing every public service. They have passed numerous laws to authorize school privatization (charters and vouchers) and to punish public school teachers.

Stuart Egan, NBCT teacher in North Carolina, urges the vast majority of the public who send their children to public schools to vote for pro-public school candidates. He specifically urges a vote for Jen Mangrum, who is running for State Superintendent.

Stuart Egan describes what’s at stake in this post:

Long before Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, people like Phil Berger and those he controlled began to institute “reforms” into public education without fear of reprisal.

Those reforms turned a once progressive state system of public education into one of regression. Eliminating longevity pay, taking away graduate degree pay and career status from newer teachers, revamping the salary scales,  and cutting teacher assistants were just a few of the actions taken to “reform” public education.

What Berger and others also started in 2011 and continue to champion today is making North Carolina the literal working laboratory for ALEC-inspired reforms that are targeting the vitality of public schools and enabling a variety of privatization initiatives that are padding the pockets of many at the expense of taxpayers.

In fact, in under a decade, NC has become the nation’s Petri Dish for harmful educational reforms.

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These “reforms” are not original – just maybe some adjustments to make them especially “effective” in North Carolina.

All of these so-called “reforms” have failed wherever they were implemented. It’s time to turn out the privatizers and entrepreneurs and vote for legislators who are dedicated to public schools.

Vote for Jen Mangrum for State Superintendent!

The National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, recently released a major study of segregation and charter schools by Dr. Helen Ladd and Muvzana Turaeva of Duke University.

Dr. Samuel Abrams introduced it here.

The issue of school choice and segregation has been central to education policy debates for decades. In his initial argument for vouchers, published in 1955, Milton Friedman conceded that segregationists stood to employ vouchers to enroll their children in all-white private schools instead of public schools mandated to integrate a year earlier by Brown v. Board of Education. But to Friedman, the answer was not regulation but moral suasion. Friedman’s opinion was rendered technically moot in 1976 by Runyon v. McCrary, which barred private schools from making admissions decisions based on race, yet it nevertheless indicated a fundamental problem with systems of school choice.

With the introduction of charter schools in the early 1990s, commentators raised concerns about school location, inadequate transportation, contracts mandating significant parental involvement, and shared parental proclivities as implicit mechanisms or pathways to segregation. In “Parental Preferences for Charter Schools in North Carolina: Implications for Racial Segregation and Isolation,” Helen F. Ladd and Mavzuna Turaeva add substantially to the literature validating these concerns.

Using data for the nearly 11,000 North Carolina families who transferred their children from traditional public schools to charter schools in 2015-16, Ladd and Turaeva document that the migration of white, though not minority, switchers from traditional public schools to charter schools increased segregation. “We find that by switching to charter schools that are whiter than the traditional public schools they leave behind,” they write, “white switchers contribute to racial segregation across schools.” At the elementary level, 67 percent of white switchers enrolled in charter schools with lower shares of minority students; at the middle-school level, 72 percent of white switchers did so.

To buttress their analysis, Ladd and Turaeva employ a conditional logit model to estimate revealed preferences. To infer parental preferences by race as well as socioeconomic status, Ladd and Turaeva use five criteria to define the value of charter schools for parents: racial composition; proximity; academic achievement; availability of transportation and lunch; and mission. Ladd and Turaeva conclude that with these dimensions considered together, it is clear that white parents disproportionately favored white charter schools and exhibited a pronounced aversion to significantly minority charter schools.

With this working paper, Ladd, a professor emerita of public policy and economics at Duke University, and Turaeva, a doctoral candidate in public policy (with a specialization in economics) at Duke as well as a research associate at the Duke Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, build on research Ladd did with Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein for an article published by Education Finance and Policy in 2017 on growing segregation across the charter sector in North Carolina from 1999 to 2012. In addition, Ladd and Turaeva’s analysis complements a 2019 NCSPE working paper on charter schools in Kansas City by Patrick Denice, Michael DeArmond, and Matthew Carr, who found a disproportionate number of white students transferring from traditional public schools to new charter schools from 2011 to 2015.

Lucid, rigorous, and supported with eight tables of telling data, this study advances our understanding of school choice and raises important questions about how choice systems should be designed.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE

You may wonder, What’s a libertarian school? Good question. It’s not Summerhill. Read Mitchell Robinson’s post about Thales Academy in Apex, North Carolina, which is a voucher school.

It’s a low-cost, low-quality Private school that’s designed to standardize students and protect them from creative or critical thinking. It’s yet another entrant in DeVos’ “Cabinet of Horrors.” More of this and we will slip back into primordial slime.

Parents in North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state’s voucher program on grounds that it discriminates against them because of their religious beliefs. Through the voucher program, the state sends public funds to religious schools that do not accept the children of these plaintiffs because of their religious beliefs. Therefore the plaintiffs argue that the voucher program encourages religious discrimination.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the private school voucher known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” established in 2013 by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Major tenets of the lawsuit are:

“The Program sends millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools without imposing any meaningful educational requirements. As implemented, many of the Program’s funds are directed to schools that divide communities on religious lines, disparage many North Carolinians’ faiths and identities, and coerce families into living under religious dictates and The Program as implemented funds discrimination on the basis of religion. Families’ ability to participate in the Program is limited by their religious beliefs and their willingness to cede control of their faith to a religious school,” The Program as implemented funds discrimination on the basis of religion. Families’ ability to participate in the Program is limited by their religious beliefs and their willingness to cede control of their faith to a religious school.

This is an interesting approach. Typically, litigants claim that they are denied access to public funds because of their religious beliefs. In this lawsuit, the litigants say they are denied access to publicly funded religious schools because of their religious faith and that the voucher program should be held unconstitutional because it discriminates against them and their children on religious grounds.

NBCT Teacher Justin Parmenter and microbiologist Dr. Nan Fulcher write here about North Carolina’s reliance on limited studies to justify reopening schools.

 

A Warning for Governor Cooper: the burden of COVID-19 in NC is far higher than in countries that struggled with school outbreaks after reopening

On Tuesday Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina students will return to school for in-person instruction in August. Schools will be expected to follow distancing protocols and symptoms screenings will be done as students and staff enter school buildings. Also on Tuesday, North Carolina set new records for single day death totals and COVID hospitalizations.

On Saturday we wrote about the COVID-19 data that North Carolina school officials are mulling over. In analyzing the specific points presented by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to the NC State Board of Education, we noted the scarcity of information on COVID-19 spread in schools, and the potential for misinterpreting the few studies that do exist.

In our article, we only addressed the studies cited by the NCDHHS that supported the statement “schools do not appear to have played a major role in COVID-19 transmission.”

We did not address the fact that the NCDHHS failed to include other data in their report — information about countries that had already reopened their schools prior to the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

To shed more light on reopened schools, we now highlight a recent New York Times (NYT) article, which was published the same day as our last blog article.

The NYT outlines critical considerations for reopening U.S. schools, citing much of the same research we analyzed — and identifying the same flaws.

In addition, the authors discuss what happened when countries reopened their schools following initial closure due to the first COVID-19 cases. Information about reopened schools was absent from the NCDHHS’s literature review. This data could have greatly helped to inform discussion about North Carolina’s plan for the upcoming school year.

The NYT article cites the report entitled “Summary of School Re-Opening Models and Implementation Approaches During the COVID 19 Pandemic, which was distributed by the University of Washington Department of Global Health (updated 7-6-2020).

To set the stage for analyzing the UW report, we generated some values that reflect the COVID-19 burden in each country at the time they reopened their schools. Because the studies had different methods for determining transmission rates, direct comparison of each country’s infection data was not possible.

Therefore, to illustrate the prevalence of COVID-19 in each country, we determined the number of new daily cases expressed as a fraction of the country’s total population. (For example, Denmark had 198 new reported cases the day schools reopened; that value divided by the total population of 5.8 million equals 0.34 cases/10,000 people)

Table 1. COVID-19 infection data from six countries on the date that schools reopened.

New daily cases on reopen date per 10,000 people

Denmark 0.22
France 0.01
Germany. 0.15
Israel. 0.1
Norway. 0.07
S. Korea. 0.01

In the UW report, the authors considered Denmark and Norway to be among the European countries with low community transmission, while Germany was considered to be “higher”. This conclusion doesn’t track with our calculations, but high variability among the number of new daily case reports at the time could account for the discrepancy.

As for the outcome of reopening schools, the UW report presented the following results: [*NOTE: each country employed different mitigation measures and different strategies for grouping students and determining which ages returned to school.]

Denmark and Norway – These two countries reopened schools gradually, starting with preschool and then all students six weeks later. This approach did not result in an increased rate of growth of COVID-19 cases in either country.

Germany – The return of older students later in the reopening process was accompanied by increased transmission among students; staff infection rates were equivalent to that of the general population. Individual schools were closed for quarantine as outbreaks occurred. Recently, Germany closed a small number of schools preemptively in response to local community outbreaks.

Israel – Schools adopted fewer social distancing measures due to crowding. After reopening schools, over 300 children and staff were infected within a month, with over 130 cases at a single school. Around 200 schools out of 5,200 were closed for quarantine during June, others remaining open through the end of the month.

South Korea – Soon after reopening, schools near a warehouse facility outbreak were closed and other schools postponed reopening. Other closings have occurred in response to other small community clusters. No reports of school-related infections have been reported to date.

France – There were no publications on the outcome, but news accounts indicate that, despite a small number of cases (70 per 1.2 million students) after gradual opening in mid-May, cases have subsided and schools have fully reopened with no additional outbreaks.

The overall conclusion from UW was that reopening schools in countries where community transmission was low did not increase overall spread, but opening schools in countries where community transmission was higher correlated with school outbreaks and subsequent school closures.

To consider how reopening U.S. schools will compare to the other countries’ experiences, we looked at the current data for new daily cases for the entire country and for North Carolina (Table 2).

Table 2. Current COVID-19 infection data (7-11-2020) for the United States and North Carolina.

New daily cases per 10,000 people, 7-12-20

United States 1.87
North Carolina 2.35

It’s clear that none of the countries that reopened schools in late spring had anywhere near the extent of COVID-19 that’s present in the U.S.

Further, the value for new daily cases from each country that reopened schools (with the exception of Israel) continued to decline after school was back in session.

With transmission rates continuing to rise in the U.S. and in North Carolina, the number of daily new cases in both places could double by the time school starts on August 17th.

If the experience of other countries holds true — that COVID-19 spread in reopened schools reflects the prevalence of the infection in the community — reopening schools where the number of active cases is high would present an enormous risk for students and staff in those areas.

Even if children don’t pass along SARS-CoV-2 as easily as adults, there could still be a significant increase in spread among students and their families in communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

NC school officials urgently need to consider the lessons from other countries’ school reopening experiences, and look at the pace at which the virus is spreading right now … and where it’s predicted to be this fall and beyond.

Nan Fulcher earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of North Carolina, specializing in infectious disease research. She’s involved in science and outdoor education programming for children and does freelance graphic design.

 

Do you remember General Tata?

After a career in the military, retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata entered the Broad Academy in 2009, launching a new career. He was soon hired as Chief Operating Officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. Then on to become Superintendent of Schools in Wake County, North Carolina, where a new school board hired him to dismantle one of the nation’s most successfully integrated districts. He managed to alienate and offend enough people so that the board that hired him was soon swept out by voters.

Mike Klonsky picks up the story of General Tata’s career post-education. As a noted Islamophobe and Trumper, he soon caught the eye of Trump recruiters and is in line for a powerful position in the Defense Department.

Klonsky writes:

FAST FORWARD…So quite naturally, who should pop up yesterday as Trump’s proposed appointee to the third-highest post in the Pentagon? None other than Brig. Gen. Tata himself. The job includes managing policy decisions on everything from Afghanistan and the Middle East to China, North Korea, and Russia, as well as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and more.

Tata would succeed John Rood, who was ousted as undersecretary for policy in February after being viewed as insufficiently loyal to Trump. He could even be next in the line if the secretary of defense and the deputy resigned or were removed.

Only this time, the recommendation caused the shit to hit the fan.

Among his notorious remarks: He called President Obama “a terrorist leader.”

Another notable citizen-rightwing nut job for this itinerant administration.