Here’s what North Carolina health officials might be missing in the data they’re using to push school reopening

co authored by Nan Fulcher and Justin Parmenter

This week state health agencies presented information to the North Carolina State Board of Education regarding COVID-19 and schools.  

Representatives of both the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and the North Carolina Pediatric Society made the case that the risk of children spreading COVID-19 in schools is minimal and must be balanced against student needs that can be most effectively met with schools open.

The presentation offered a potential preview of a school reopening announcement that Governor Roy Cooper is expected to make in the next few days.

However, the data that NCDHHS is using to drive this important conversation doesn’t necessarily support the conclusion that opening schools is safe for our children, and grim anecdotal evidence emerging from around the country suggests the actual risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools may be much higher than currently predicted.

During this week’s state board meeting, State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson advised board members that “Schools have not really seemed to play a major role in transmission” and talked through this series of bullet points downplaying the possibility that North Carolina’s schools could become a hotbed for COVID-19:


The original source of the information on this slide is the Massachusetts Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance document, which was released last month as that state’s plan for the 2020-21 school year. The evidence for that document’s statement “schools do not appear to have played a major role in COVID-19 transmission” is based on the following studies:  

1) In France, a February study of one of the very first accounts of COVID-19 in Europe, involved a nine-year-old child who went to three different schools following infection by an adult and none of the 115 contacts at those facilities contracted the virus. 

2) In Ireland, 3 children and 3 adults who tested positive for COVID-19 at different schools in March didn’t infect any of the 1,155 total individuals with whom they had some sort of contact.

3) In Australia, evaluation of the 863 contacts encountered by 9 students and 9 teachers at their corresponding primary and secondary schools in April showed that only one other student became infected.

 4) A review article from early May, analyzing COVID-19 case clusters. For example, a cluster would consist of an infected person as well as anyone else who got infected directly by the individual or secondarily via the individual’s network. The study examined the location of transmission and showed that only 4% (8 of 210) of the clusters involved schools.

This small collection of studies provides minimal evidence for the dynamics of COVID-19 spread in schools. Thus, the NCDHHS summary statement that “schools do not appear to have played a major role in COVID-19 transmission” may convey a more definitive conclusion than warranted, especially to those unfamiliar with the data. 

A closer analysis of the four studies reveal flaws that further call this conclusion into question.

One pitfall has to do with the reason there are so few studies about viral transmission in schools in the first place.

When the virus started to spread in the Spring of 2020, schools were quickly closed. The only studies about the virus in schools come from public health teams that were able to document cases just as in-person classes were being cancelled. And once schools closed, the chance to study COVID-19 in that setting disappeared.

The fact that schools weren’t open during the majority of the study period affects the interpretation of this research. In the case studies from France, Ireland, and Australia, infected people were pulled out of school immediately, disrupting transmission. Of course this is proper procedure from a public health standpoint, but it might not reflect what would happen in every school going forward. For example, if an infected subject didn’t seek testing or quarantine as rapidly, the transmission rate could be much higher. There is also the potential for spread by infected, but asymptomatic, individuals.

Another consideration is that when these studies were being done in the Spring of 2020, SARS-CoV-2 was truly exotic, with single cases (typically acquired by travel) dropping into an unsuspecting community. 

Today, after months of full-on community spread–not to mention the alarming rates of infection in many areas of the U.S.–it’s more likely that schools will be contending with multiple cases simultaneously, and on a continuing basis. These factors would almost certainly cause higher transmission rates compared to those from the earlier reports.

The other NCDHHS bullet point “If infected, children may be less likely to infect others with COVID-19” is also undermined by school closings. 

In the three reports cited for this statement, pediatric cases from China, Switzerland, and the U.S. (Chicago) were being collected just as schools were shutting down. Thus, the conclusion that children weren’t spreading to other children was skewed by the fact that routine contact with their schoolmates and playmates was no longer occurring. Instead, children were isolated within their family group, which may or may not have included other children.

Even the results of the cluster analysis are likely to be skewed because it’s not a fair comparison. 

Infection clusters can’t develop in schools when the doors are locked. In contrast, activities like in-person church attendance, which is still going strong in some places, can spawn new clusters. Thus, the number of religious gathering clusters would be over-represented in a survey like this, undercutting the proportion–and therefore underestimating the significance–of school clusters.

It’s also important to note that, in identifying the eight school clusters in their study, the authors actually prove that schools CAN be a focal point of viral spread.

One of the clusters cited is the dramatic case associated with the Salanter Akiba Riverdale school in New York, where over sixty people including staff, students, and family members were infected, although some transmission may have occurred via events outside school. 

Another citation is from Singapore, where, despite the heroic measures of enhanced hygiene, staggered classes, temperature checks, and a week-long break away from school, there were still eight reported cases before the school was closed eleven days later. 

This set of clusters is just a small collection of anecdotes, but they may be instructive for considering the spectrum of scenarios that could play out in our public schools.

Studies about school-based COVID-19 spread are paused for now, but anecdotal evidence from other places where children gather may reveal what’s on the horizon when schools reopen.

Recent reports of skyrocketing infections at daycare facilities (Texas and Charlotte, NC, for example) and the summer camp outbreaks in Missouri and Arkansas do not bode well for North Carolina schools filled–even partly–with potential carriers of COVID-19.

In summary, the available data for COVID-19 spread in schools does not present an open-and-shut case of guaranteed low risk for students and teachers. Instead, a more thorough reading of each case reveals there’s likely to be enormous variability in the way COVID-19 disease spreads within educational facilities, depending on any number of physical, social, and biological factors – factors we do not understand and therefore can’t predict with any degree of certainty. 

As Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told members of Congress, “We don’t really know, exactly, what the efficiency of spread is” among children. 

Public school stakeholders need to be aware of the pitfalls associated with these studies as they draw conclusions from the COVID-19 information supplied by NCDHHS. Policy decisions affecting the health and well-being of school children should not be based on flawed reasoning and studies that don’t accurately model the current patterns of infection in this rapidly evolving crisis.

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.

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North Carolina’s schools deserve a superintendent who will fight for them

*note: this piece originally ran on Cardinal & Pine

Recently State Auditor Beth Wood released another damning Department of Public Instruction audit, detailing errors involving tens of millions in taxpayer dollars.  It barely made the news.  

It’s a sign of how utterly low Superintendent Mark Johnson has dropped the bar as his tenure atop North Carolina K-12 education nears its end.

Elected in 2016 as the first Republican superintendent in a century, Johnson has lurched from scandal to scandal.  The sweetheart deal for Apple iPads, thousands of which were found to be collecting dust in DPI storage a year later.  The shady Istation contract award.  The short-lived, campaign-driven Common Core hate.  And more.  So much more.

But as a veteran classroom teacher who constantly struggles to do his job effectively with insufficient state resources from a legislature that seems bent on sabotaging public schools, I’d say the worst part of Mark Johnson’s superintendency has been his complete lack of backbone with the General Assembly.

Johnson was elected well into a decade where a veto-proof Republican supermajority has taken a veritable wrecking ball to public education, passing a jaw-dropping succession of laws which make it harder for North Carolina’s schools to attract and retain excellent teachers and provide the education that our students deserve.

Those laws include, among others:

Against this apocalyptic backdrop, it would have been extremely helpful to have someone leading public schools who was willing to speak truth to power.  Not only has Mark Johnson failed to do that, he’s often served as an ad hoc spokesman for the General Assembly’s appalling education policy, famously referring to North Carolina’s $35,000 starting teacher salary as “good money,” for example.    

As superintendent, Mark Johnson has also worked to undermine efforts by education advocates, speaking out against protests by thousands of pro-public school individuals in March of 2018 and again in 2019.

Mark Johnson needs to be replaced with a state superintendent who is willing to support educators and to call out bad policy.  That’s why recent remarks made by Republican candidate for superintendent Catherine Truitt raised such huge red flags for me.

Responding to a question about how she would work with state lawmakers, Truitt took her Democratic opponent Jennifer Mangrum to task for assigning the General Assembly an F for its education policy:

During a candidate forum this winter, all seven state superintendent candidates were asked to grade North Carolina’s public schools. Our answers ranged from “A” to “C”. My opponent decided to add, “but I would give legislators an F.”  This comment is insulting to legislators of both parties who take on an incredible amount of work on behalf of us all for a stipend of around $13,000 per year, and it damages her credibility with these folks. Regardless of whether one feels there is truth in her statement, this type of public admonishment is not appropriate, nor does it indicate an ability to work across the aisle and build trust. 

When elected, I pledge to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle, and to work with the governor and his designees regardless of what political party they are from. And this work will be characterized by respect and the understanding that we must always ask the question, “is this what’s best for students?” 

I am also confident legislators from either party, a governor from either party, and State Board of Education members from either party, will be willing to work with me because they know I respect them, I respect their opinions and perspective, that I will always be honest with them, and, unlike others, I have not and will not ever personally attack them or their character. 

Being a vocal advocate for the needs of public schools doesn’t constitute personal attacks–it’s a basic element of the job description of state superintendent.  It’s what North Carolina’s educators and students desperately need.  

This is not the first time Catherine Truitt has played the “Be Nice” card in defense of Republican education policy.  

In 2016, when Truitt served as Governor Pat McCrory’s Senior Education Advisor, dozens of teachers marched 23 miles to the governor’s office to call attention to the needs of public schools.  14 of them were arrested.

In an opinion piece for the News & Observer, Truitt delivered something that sounded remarkably like the public admonishment she lectured Mangrum about last week, referring dismissively to the educators’ actions as a “publicity stunt” and saying they weren’t interested in “constructive dialogue.”  She vigorously defended Governor McCrory’s record on education before advising the teachers to do more to “set a positive example for [their] students.”

Just to be sure we’re clear, Catherine Truitt appears to think it’s fine to admonish those who speak up on behalf of public schools, but it’s disrespectful to find fault with Republican education policy.

Public schools are at a critical moment, with a deadly, school-closing pandemic still sweeping the country and a general election with huge consequences for education at both the national and state levels rapidly approaching.  

Now more than ever it’s incredibly important that we are able to make an unflinching assessment of what K-12 education’s needs are, what policies and practices have led us to this point, and exactly what actions we must take to get it right for our students and teachers.

Mark Johnson’s election was the mistake of the century.  

Let’s not repeat it.

Charlotte teacher with COVID-19 shares concerns over re-opening schools

My colleague Michelle Vail has been teaching with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for 17 years and is an 8th grade science teacher as well as Athletic Director at Waddell Language Academy.

She’s currently battling COVID-19 which she contracted about a month ago.

Earlier this week Ms. Vail reached out to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education about her experience in hopes that it would inform the board’s decision making process on a potential school reopening in August.

I share that communication below with her permission:

I know that a board meeting is being held this evening regarding the opening of schools so I wanted to take a moment to share my concerns as an educator who has had COVID since June 1st. Please forgive that this is a little long and wordy but I have a lot to say.

First, I did everything right, just as we were being advised. I only went out for necessities. I wore a mask and gloves, socially distanced from others, washed my hands, and/or used hand sanitizer when necessary. However, in the last week of May I received some news that a friend of mine that I have known for 30+ years, parents were in a tragic car accident. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and her father was the primary caregiver. Unfortunately, he did not survive. I came to Ohio to help.

On June 1, we picked her mother up from the hospital. They scanned our foreheads as we entered fully protected and we waited in a secure area isolated. Three days later we discover they sent her home with COVID-19! In a matter of days, this virus took down a household of 5! Every single one of us exhibited different symptoms and only 2 of the 5 started with a fever. I had that terrible whooping cough, sore throat, and extreme weakness. The weakness was so bad that I could not wash my hair without taking a break because I was out of breath raising my arms over my head. The symptoms seemed to vary across the board, so if scanning staff/students/parents’ foreheads for fever is a proposed option for schools to open, it’s not a good one.

Three of the five have now tested negative for COVID. One was just tested today because he was the last to get it; he got it from us. Today he and I lost the nasal congestion we had been having but we also completely lost our sense of smell?! That goes along with our lack of taste. Unfortunately, I have had two positive tests, so I am still in isolation in Ohio. They have also been advised to quarantine with me. I also have a compromised immune system so that could be slowing down the process. Both Mecklenburg and Ohio Health Departments have contacted me and I asked ODH if I needed to isolate from the others in the house if they have already had it and he said there were a lot of variables because they know so little about this virus. However, since it was all within a month he “assumed” it should be okay, but they should self-quarantine and use extra precaution when going out. They just don’t know how long the antibodies will last. With Chicken Pox, they last a lifetime, with Mono six months, COVID??

Personally, I don’t feel safe going back into a building. I take care of my 79-year-old father. If I bring this home to him, I would kill him. I don’t know that I would survive if I were to get this a second time. Might I also point out that many staff members and parents would fall into the critical age range for COVID-19? Students may not be getting ill with COVID, but they could transmit the virus to others.

Has anyone thought about what this would look like in person? Students would not be able to hear the teacher through the mask if they are in the middle or back of the classroom and vice versa. Are we going to be provided headphones with mics? Will teachers be provided face shields and other personal protective gear so they can get closer to the students to answer questions and provide individualized instruction? Will the cafeterias, classrooms, hallways, libraries, and other common areas be marked for social distancing? Who will be expected to be monitoring this? Will classroom doors be expected to be closed and locked at all times? If so, will teachers be provided with wipes to clean the door handles? They will also need wipes for the light switches? How will restroom breaks expect to be managed at the elementary and middle school level? Will the water fountains be blocked off? Will there be sports? How will social distance and safety be maintained? Again, who will be expected to monitor this? Who will clean the equipment? What about PE/PE Equipment? Who will clean the playground equipment for elementary school? Will staff be provided with gloves for every time they have to open an interior/exterior door? These are just some of the questions that I have.

If you go with the 50% model, will teachers be recording the lessons that they do in person with the class? If so, will the equipment be provided or will we be expected to create something completely different? It would be extremely difficult to get through the entire curriculum with the 50% model and pass an EOG/EOC?

I wanted you to have some first-hand information from someone who WILL be on that frontline. I love what I do and I really did miss my students. I missed them terribly, so much that I would sacrifice seeing them in person to protect them and their families by doing remote learning. Remote learning was NOT a walk in the park! I know that myself and many of my colleagues were working much harder and longer hours than before. I had meetings with students for help as late as 8:30 PM! I never felt so exhausted before and I might have only walked 1200 steps the entire day!

I appreciate your time reading my message and hope that you take my thoughts and concerns into consideration.


Ms. Michelle Vail
8th Grade Science Teacher
Athletic Director
E. E. Waddell Language Academy

Even in the midst of a pandemic, legislators’ priorities on Leandro are key

note: this piece was originally published by Cardinal & Pine

As North Carolina enters the fifth month of the COVID-19 outbreak, much talk has been made about a looming economic catastrophe of undetermined proportions.  But pandemics don’t relieve state lawmakers of their constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education.”  If our legislators disagree, they need to be replaced.


In 1994 a lawsuit was brought against the state of North Carolina and the State Board of Education by plaintiffs from five economically distressed counties (Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson and Vance).  

The suit alleged that the state was not providing an equal opportunity to a high quality education and was thus failing to meet its obligation under the North Carolina Constitution, which holds:

“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.” (Article I, Section 15)

“The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” (Article IX, Section 2)

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that those sections of the North Carolina Constitution “guarantee every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.”  

In its landmark decision, the court defined a sound basic education as one that provides students with sufficient understanding of academic content to “enable the student to function in a complex and rapidly changing society,” and to “make informed choices with regard to issues that affect the student personally or affect the student’s community, state, and nation.”  

The court said that education must also equip students with the skills they need in order to “successfully engage in post-secondary education or vocational training” and “compete on an equal basis with others in further formal education or gainful employment in contemporary society.”

In 2002, a lower court found the state of North Carolina to be in violation of students’ right to a sound basic education.  

The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that decision in 2004 and ordered the state to remedy its failure by providing the following:

*That every classroom be staffed with a competent, certified, well-trained teacher who is teaching the standard course of student by implementing effective educational methods that provide differentiated, individualized instruction, assessment and remediation to the students in that classroom.  

*That every school be led by a well-trained competent principal with the leadership skills and the ability to hire and retain competent, certified and well-trained teachers who can implement an effective and cost effective instructional program that meets the needs of at-risk children so that they can have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education by achieving grade level or above academic performance.  

*That every school be provided, in the most cost effective manner, the resources necessary to support the effective instructional program within that school so that the educational needs of all children, including at-risk children, to have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education, can be met.”

In ensuing years, very little progress was made in improving education funding or successfully addressing poor education outcomes.  

Then in 2018, the judge tasked with monitoring the state’s implementation of the Leandro decision appointed consulting agency WestEd to conduct a detailed review of North Carolina’s education system and offer recommendations.  

WestEd’s comprehensive report was released to the public in December 2019.  It states that North Carolina is even further from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education now than it was when the Supreme Court’s decision was originally issued more than two decades ago.  

It further notes that “the future prosperity and well-being of the state’s citizens requires successfully educating all of its children…North Carolina’s current education system fails to meet the education needs of many of its children and thereby fails to provide for the future success of these individuals, their communities, and the state.”

The WestEd report provides a detailed road map for improvements that need to be made to ensure that North Carolina is meeting the educational needs of its students.  

It identifies eight “critical need” areas:

1.  Revise the state funding model to provide adequate, efficient, and equitable resources.

2.  Provide a qualified, well-prepared, and diverse teaching staff in every school.

3.  Provide a qualified and well-prepared principal in every school.

4.  Provide all at-risk students with the opportunity to attend high-quality early childhood programs.

5.  Direct resources, opportunities, and initiatives to economically disadvantaged students.

6.  Revise the student assessment system and school accountability system.

7.  Build an effective regional and statewide system of support for the improvement of “low-performing” schools.

8.  Convene an expert panel to assist the Court in monitoring state policies, plans, programs, and progress.

The report lays out specific policy recommendations on how the state can meet the eight critical needs.  Many of the policies recommended by WestEd would require the state to provide additional resources, which would obviously come with a price tag.

General Assembly leadership unmoved by Leandro mandate:

As soon as the WestEd report became public, Republican leaders in both the North Carolina House and Senate began complaining about not being involved in WestEd’s work.  

A spokeswoman for longtime Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the state had made “incredible strides in education” since the GOP took over in 2011 and added “It is impossible to get a comprehensive look at education funding and policy in the state without talking directly to the people who create the laws and allocate the money.  It seems to me that it’s awfully difficult to credibly analyze policy choices without ever speaking to the people who made those choices.”

House Speaker Tim Moore’s spokesman also indicated findings would have been different had state legislators given input on the report.

This seems like a good time to mention that under the leadership of Berger and Moore, North Carolina’s state legislature has repeatedly cut taxes for individuals and corporations, primarily to the benefit of our state’s wealthiest shareholders and individuals.   According to North Carolina Budget and Tax Center data, as of the last round of rate reductions North Carolina has $3.6 billion less per year than it would have had otherwise.

Those massive tax cuts have taken away money that could have been spent on implementing WestEd’s policy recommendations.  They have made it far more difficult for North Carolina’s public schools to provide a sound basic education to all of our students.

Along with the COVID-driven economic climate, this depleted revenue has provided legislators who don’t necessarily care to see strong public schools with a convenient excuse for failing to act on WestEd’s recommendations.

In a May press conference, Senator Phil Berger responded to a question about adding education funding to meet the Leandro mandate by essentially saying the court couldn’t make the legislature pay:

“Our constitution does not provide for judges to appropriate dollars.  We’ve said on multiple occasions if judges want to get into the field of appropriating they need to run for the legislature.  We’ll see what the order is, but again we cannot spend money we don’t have.”

Senator Berger is right that the Leandro order lacks any power of enforcement.  A judge cannot allocate revenue from the general fund–it requires having a legislature that believes in following the law and wants to do the right thing for North Carolina’s children.  

But the fact that Republican leadership has methodically and intentionally diverted immense amounts of potential education funding into the pockets of corporations and wealthy individuals does not absolve this legislature of its constitutional obligations either.  

Action plan calls for changes this year:

In January 2020, parties to the Leandro case (both plaintiffs and defendants) set about putting together Phase 1 of an 8 year action plan as required by Judge David Lee.  

The Fiscal Year 2021 Action Plan was submitted to the court this month.

The plan acknowledges the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on North Carolina’s economy.  It notes that when parties began working on the plan, North Carolina had its lowest unemployment in a decade and a healthy budget surplus and now we are facing a forecasted $4.2 billion revenue shortfall.  

However, the action plan also states unequivocally “It is vital that the state does not reduce funding commitments to K-12 public education and early childhood education and developmental supports.  The challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic must not result in the State falling further behind in its efforts to meet the constitutional standard for all children in North Carolina, particularly at-risk students.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, the Leandro action plan recommends a variety of steps which are aligned with critical need areas identified in the WestEd report. 

In part, those steps include:

*Improving efforts to recruit diverse, well-prepared teachers through expansion of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program

*Specifically working to increase ethnic diversity of North Carolina’s teaching corps–our teachers are 80% white and serve students who are 52% students of color–and ensure “all teachers employ culturally responsive practices

*Providing more effective mentoring for beginning teachers

*Improving compensation with an average 5% raise for teachers and instructional support staff

*Increasing funding for whole child support (school counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists)

*Expanding access to high-quality principal preparation programs

*Revising funding formulas so more resources are directed toward students with greatest need

*Developing capacity to support lowest-performing schools

*Increasing access to high-quality Pre-K

The estimated cost of taking the steps outlined in the FY 2020-21 Action Plan is $427 million above current funding levels.

If you don’t like the policy, change the policy makers:

I reached out to the offices of both Senator Berger and Speaker Moore to ask about the possibility of the General Assembly moving on the above recommendations in the next fiscal year.  Neither bothered to respond.

Public education’s needs are crystal clear.  The path forward has been meticulously delineated.  We have to stop kicking the can down the road and have the integrity to say that the time for action is now.

And if leaders in North Carolina’s state legislature continue to be negligent toward the Supreme Court’s decision and their constitutional obligations, we must work like hell to replace them in November with individuals who believe in adequately funding our schools so we can provide our students with the opportunities they deserve.


Proposed legislation would require NC DPI to develop “comprehensive firearm education course” for high school students

Proposed legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly would direct the Department of Public Instruction to develop a firearm education elective class for high school students.

The bill would require such courses to be developed in collaboration with “law enforcement agencies and firearms associations.” The classes would not permit the use of live ammunition:

The State Board of Education, in consultation with law enforcement agencies and firearms associations, shall develop a comprehensive firearm education course that can be offered as an elective at the high school level to facilitate the learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) principles. The firearm safety course shall include history, mathematics, and firearms functions and applications. Firearm safety shall be a key component of the course of study. The course shall rely on input from law enforcement agencies and firearms associations as well as related scientific engineering and design-related educational sources. The course of instruction shall not permit the use or presence of live ammunition. The course shall be conducted under the supervision of an adult who has been approved by the school principal in accordance with G.S. 14-269.2(g)(1).”

The proposed committee substitute gutted an old bill filed by Senator Jeff Jackson in early 2019 which clarified conditions of pretrial release. The new version is renamed “2nd Amendment Protection Act” and in addition to mandating the firearm education class would also relax various concealed carry laws and restore rights of convicted felons to possess firearms under certain conditions.

You can see the proposed bill in its entirety below:


Pressure mounts to change name of Halifax County school named for slave owner, honor Black HBCU champion instead

Co authored by Rodney D. Pierce and Justin Parmenter

A movement is afoot in Halifax County–birthplace of the Leandro lawsuit and one of North Carolina’s most economically distressed counties–to change the name of William R Davie Middle STEM Academy.  An overwhelming 93 percent of the school’s population are students of color (77% Black, 10% Indigenous/American Indian, 4% Multi-racial, 2% Hispanic). 

A petition started by 2019 North Carolina Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year and Halifax County native Rodney D. Pierce requests that the Halifax County Schools Board of Education change the name to that of county native Dr. James E. Cheek Sr.  The petition currently has over 1300 signatures.

William R. Davie is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  He served as Governor of North Carolina and helped found the University of North Carolina. 

According to census documents, Davie also enslaved Africans to work his plantations and increase his personal wealth.  The 1790 United States census shows Davie owning 36 slaves:

The 1820 census recorded Davie–then living in Chester County, South Carolina–as owning 116 slaves to operate his cotton plantation:

In addition to enslaving Black people, Davie consistently fought to strengthen the institution of chattel slavery in the United States.  In 1787 he threatened a Southern delegation walkout at the Constitutional Convention, insisting that “the business of the convention was at an end” if the enslaved were not counted as part of state populations. His insistence laid the groundwork for the Three-Fifths Clause of the original US Constitution that counted human property as 3/5s of a human being, allowing the slaveholding South more representation in the US House of Representatives. 

Without this influence, historians have cited that important pro-slavery and anti-Indigenous legislation wouldn’t have passed, including the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (allowed Missouri to join the Union as a slave state), the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (the forced displacement and genocide of tens of thousands of Indigenous people on the Trail of Tears to land west of the Mississippi River), the Compromise of 1850 (included the Fugitive Slave Act that required citizens and officials of free states to return all enslaved freedom seekers to owners upon capture and allowing slavery in Utah, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia), the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 (created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska while opening the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain territory to slavery). 

Founding Father James Madison, himself a slave owner, came up with the idea of the Electoral College based off of the Three-Fifths Compromise. Instead of “direct election” — what we’d call the popular vote — which Madison actually thought was best, he created a system where presidential electors based on the number of members of Congress a state had would decide the Presidency, which gave the South a significant advantage for decades. So, Davie had a role in establishing the controversial system of electing the president which persists to this day. 

In 1794, during his time in the state legislature, Davie introduced a bill entitled “An Act to prevent the owners of slaves from hiring to them their time, to make compensation to patrols, and to restrain the abuses committed by free negroes and mulattoes.” This legislation permitted patrollers to “inflict a punishment, not exceeding fifteen lashes, on all slaves they may find off their owner’s plantation, or travelling on the Sabbath, or other unreasonable time, without a proper permit or pass.” At Davie’s hands, not only would the enslaved in NC not be able to earn money when they had free time, but they would be whipped if found at any time without proper identification. 

Despite his reprehensible history, Davie’s name adorns a school where the majority of the people who pass through it daily – whether students, employees, parents, etc. – would not have been recognized by him as fellow human beings. 

It may have made sense to name the school after Davie when it was dedicated in 1941 and all those who passed through it were White. That was nearly 80 years ago. 

Pierce and the other signers of the change the name petition are calling on the HCS school board to rename William R Davie Middle STEM Academy for Dr. Cheek. 

Born in Roanoke Rapids, Cheek served as president of Howard University for 20 years (1969-1989), transforming the HBCU into “The Black Harvard.” Afterwards, he served as president emeritus.

The petition states “A passionate advocate for HBCUs, Cheek befriended Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, becoming an advisor to each on Black institutions of higher learning. In 1980, Cheek was named Washingtonian of the Year and in 1983, President Reagan bestowed upon him the nation’s highest civilian honor:  The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The name of a prominent Black educator, who was a titan in Black higher education, is better suited to a building where predominantly Black children learn and Black adults work than the name of a slave-owning White supremacist who exploited Black people for wealth and political power.” 

Dr. Cheek’s family has given their blessing to the change.

If you’d like to sign the petition to change the name of William R Davie Middle STEM Academy you can find it here.

Email addresses for the Halifax County Board of Education are here.

North Carolina court grants protester restraining order against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

A North Carolina Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the city of Charlotte and CMPD Chief Kerr Putney today which prevents the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

Here’s the press release from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

N.C. Superior Court Grants Protester Restraining Order Against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

CMPD Has Used Irritants, Batons and Exploding Projectiles on Citizens in Recent Weeks

Protesters, journalists, and advocates in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, with the help of national and local civil rights groups, won a victory for personal rights and the Constitution today. A N.C. a North Carolina Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order against the City of Charlotte and its police chief to halt the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

“We are happy with the court’s ruling,” said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We hope it will mean there is no more unlawful use of force – including groundless orders to disperse – by law enforcement officers at the Juneteenth action in Charlotte this afternoon, other events this weekend.”

“Black people have been harmed for centuries under the guise of law enforcement, which uses the term ‘protect and serve,’ but they have never protected or served the black community,” said Rev. Corinne Mack, President of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP, the lead plaintiff in the case. “What happened in Charlotte is another example of the abusive and brutal tactics that law enforcement uses against black people somewhere in this country every day.”

Earlier in the day, the groups filed a lawsuit against Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, Kerr Putney, and the city of Charlotte, alleging Charlotte police confronted peaceful protesters with tear gas, police in riot gear, exploding projectiles and tactics designed to menace peaceful citizens.

Read the overall lawsuit here.

Meet North Carolina’s favorite white supremacist, Zebulon Vance

As monuments to white supremacy around the world continue to fall, this might be a good time for North Carolinians to learn more about Zebulon Vance.

Vance was born in Buncombe County in 1830 to a family that owned 18 slaves.  He served as a Confederate officer during the Civil War before becoming Governor of North Carolina and later a US Senator.  

According to 1860 census documents, Vance himself owned six slaves, ranging in age from 26 to 2.  Their names are not included on the records.  

In letters he wrote shortly after the end of the Civil War, Vance revealed his feelings about emancipation:

“There are indications that the radical abolitionists … intend to force perfect negro equality upon us. Should this be done, and there is nothing to prevent it, it will revive an already half formed determination in me to leave the U.S. forever.”

In 1870, when Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner introduced legislation aimed at ending racial discrimination in juries, schools, transportation and public accommodations, Vance argued against the bill, claiming he was in favor of civil rights for Black Americans but concerned about what he termed “social rights”:

“There is no railway car in all the South which the colored man cannot ride in. That is his civil right. This bill proposes that he should have the opportunity or the right to go into a first-class car and sit with white gentlemen and white ladies. I submit if that is not a social right. There is a distinction between the two.”

Vance began giving a speech in 1870 called “The Scattered Nation,” which he would repeat hundreds of times. In it he called for religious freedom and tolerance among all Americans for Jewish people. “The Scattered Nation” made mention of

“…the African negro, the descendants of barbarian tribes who for 4,000 years have contributed nothing to though in close contact with civilization”

Despite his steadfast support for the institution of slavery and his consistent racist ideology, Zebulon Vance is celebrated in North Carolina through various monuments and public buildings that are named after him.

A statue of Zebulon Vance stands outside the State Capitol in Raleigh, and in downtown Asheville, a 75 foot obelisk bears his name. (A move is currently underway to remove or rename the Asheville obelisk)

North Carolina schools named after Vance include Vance High School in Charlotte, Vance Elementary in Asheville, and Zeb Vance Elementary in Kittrell.

Kittrell, NC lies in Vance County, a county which was formed in 1881 from Franklin, Warren and Granville counties in an effort to concentrate Black votes (which typically went Republican at the time) in one area and preserve surrounding counties as Democratic strongholds.

Zebulon Vance was absolutely tickled to have a North Carolina county named after him and thereafter referred to Vance County as “Zeb’s Black baby.


It’s important to understand our history and to learn from it, but there’s a not-so-fine line between learning from our history and celebrating historical figures who fought for the right to own and brutalize other human beings.

If North Carolina is ready to do some soul searching, taking a hard look at the practice of making our students attend schools named for Zebulon Vance would be a good place to start.


Thank you to my friend and North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year Rodney Pierce for pointing me in the right direction on historical documents.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners consider withholding $41 million in CMS education funding

In a Tuesday Budget Straw Vote session, the Mecklenburg County Commissioners considered placing $41 million in the FY 2021 budget in ‘restricted contingency,’ releasing it only if the school district could meet certain conditions.

Commissioners voted to approve restricting $11 million until CMS could figure out how to raise hourly staff to $15/hr and tabled a motion to withhold another $30 million in instructional services funding pending more discussion at today’s second day of the Straw Vote.

Chairman George Dunlap proposed moving $11 million into restricted contingency until CMS can come up with a plan to pay hourly staff a “livable wage,” saying it was not a sufficient priority for the school district. Commissioner Trevor Fuller said there would be “gnashing of teeth,” but “they’ll figure it out.”

The motion passed by a vote of 8-1, with Commissioner Elaine Powell voting no.

You can hear that portion of the meeting here:

The $30 million proposal began with Commissioner Vilma Leake saying CMS was failing to educate children and asking, “How can I take funds?”

Leake proposed withholding 30% of CMS’s instructional services budget, which County Manager Dena Diorio informed her would come to $84 million. Leake then reduced her proposal to $30 million which she said would be placed in restricted contingency with CMS given 90 days to come up with a plan for “how to educate children.”

As discussion proceeded, it became increasingly clear that commissioners had no plan for a metric which would serve to satisfy such a contingency. After voicing his support for the approach and noting “If you want to get someone’s attention, mess with their money,” Commissioner Fuller proposed tabling the motion to allow time for more thought and input on what conditions would allow for the release of the $30 million.

The motion to table the matter until today passed by a vote of 8-0. You can hear audio of that part of the meeting below:

It’s worth noting that eliminating $30 million from CMS’s budget would likely require the district to cut hundreds of county-funded jobs. Those positions could include teachers and support services such as school counselors and psychologists.

While few would argue that our results with students of poverty are where they need to be, it’s very difficult to see how withholding that funding wouldn’t make things a great deal worse.

It’s also hard to see how the timing of shifting to a more aggressive, strings-attached approach to funding public schools during the worst health crisis in any of our lifetimes makes any sense whatsoever.

May 27 is the second and final day of the Straw Vote session. Commissioners will hold their final vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 2.

You can find contact information for Commissioners here:

My seventh grade students weigh in on the pros and cons of remote learning

*note: This piece first appeared in Cardinal & Pine

As school year 2019-20 winds toward its surreal and heartbreaking conclusion, there is much uncertainty on the horizon as far as what next year has in store for students and teachers.

This week the Center for Disease Control released guidelines entitled Considerations for Schools which outline how schools can operate safely in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Some of those guidelines–including seating one child per row on buses and spacing desks six feet apart–make it abundantly clear that there is probably no way we’re going to have all of our students coming to school at the same time until the virus is well under control.  

School year 2020-21 will almost certainly include some measure of remote learning, and it’s important that our efforts to improve that learning experience are informed by the people that we are serving.  

With that in mind, I surveyed my 7th grade English students this week to get their thoughts on what they’ve enjoyed about remote learning, what they haven’t enjoyed about it, and what suggestions they have for how we could improve remote learning going forward.  

As background information, my school provides each student with a Chromebook, and they were given the option of taking those devices home with them when school buildings closed.  Instructional approaches vary somewhat, but in general teachers are holding some live class sessions on Zoom, posting assignments on Canvas or other online platforms and holding regular office hours to answer questions as well as encouraging students to reach out by email whenever they need assistance in understanding and completing their work.  

I have nearly 150 students in all and was able to get a surprisingly high survey participation rate, so I am pleased with how representative the survey responses are.

In terms of what my students like about attending school from home, answers focused primarily on sleeping in, various freedoms that aren’t typically part of the physical school setting, and the ability to work at one’s own pace:

The one thing that I have enjoyed the most is sleeping more and more free time.

I like that I could wake up a little later than 5 am

The fact that I get to eat whenever I want and I get to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

You can take short little breaks every once in a while, and you can sit on your couch and eat snacks.

I can sit in my bed and do my work.

Something that I have enjoyed over the last couple of months is the flexibility on assignment due dates.

I am able to talk to all of my friends while doing my work. Even if it is virtual, it is better than nothing.

We have a lot more free time, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I can get out earlier and not have to spend a hour getting home from school

The freedom of being able to wake up later, and also being able to finish something without having to change classes and lose passage into “the zone”.

constant food

I have gotten closer to my family because we are usually busy with school and extracurricular activities which didn’t give us as much time to go for a walk and talk with each other like we do now.

As for what they do NOT enjoy about remote learning, many of my students talked about missing their friends, the limitations of technology and how much harder it is to learn when you’re working on your own:

Being trapped at home all day.

I have not enjoyed how the work mostly doesn’t work and I am getting tired of zoom.

One that I definitely not enjoyed is that even though it can be fun at times to work from home it is very hard because I lose my focus very easily and get distracted doing other things and it’s been super stressful to keep up with all of the work from all these classes.

My sleep schedule is off, I am stressing a lot more, and I wish I could see my friends in person.

You do not get to see your friends and teachers face to face. It makes it hard to do anything because you can not just have a conversation with the teacher.

I can’t see my friends and it’s much easier to learn with a teacher in front of you.

Being at home has many distractions from school work

I haven’t enjoyed the fact that there is little to no human contact and it’s, in my opinion, harder to concentrate.

Something I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I eat, sleep, and learn all in the same place.

It’s harder to learn new concepts without someone teaching it in person.

At home I don’t have a teacher to remind me what to do so I worry that I’ll miss something.

I keep getting distracted and every time I have a question. I need to send an email.

It’s harder to manage yourself and stay on task.

I don’t like how it’s harder to interact with the teacher because asking a question can take upwards of 30 minutes and you might have to ask another or maybe they didn’t understand the question.

You can’t get help easily and you can’t be with your friends. Also, almost all our work has been in projects. And when projects stack up, well, you’re in deep shiitake mushroom sauce.

In terms of suggestions for making remote learning more effective, students wanted their teachers to work on organizing information so it’s easier to keep track and be understanding of how responsibilities in the home can impact student work:

every class should only have 2 assignments MAX every week. just because we’re home doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world.

Maybe not give us as much work or if u do give us a later date so we can have time because we do have lots of other classes that we need to focus on especially if some of us are taking a new language and still trying to get use to that and things.

Explain Better on how to do the assignment.

Making it feel like I’m not stuck at home

By making everything cohesive. I am getting zooms at the same time on the same day, some teachers go back and forward the way things are organized. It makes it a lot harder for the student because they have to figure it out on their own.

not expect us to be on every zoom call

I know there is required work that we have to do because we’re still in school learning but too much of it is very overwhelming because i’m pretty sure most of us are new to this unexpected change and i’m trying my best.

Two student suggestions really brought home for me the limitations of online school and reminded me that the most important goal is a return to normalcy:

There really is nothing we can do to improve online school because having less human contact is the whole point of quarantine.

Find ways to keep us safe so we can reopen the school.

Teachers are doing the best we can to keep students engaged and learning during this pandemic, and we’ll continue to work at making remote learning more effective, listening to and incorporating feedback from all stakeholders, including our students.  

We will master new digital tools, streamline organization and delivery, and improve access by bridging the digital divide that exists in many places across the state as we wait for health experts to solve COVID-19.

But as we carry out this work, we need to keep in mind that remote learning isn’t and never will be an acceptable substitute for in-person learning.