Want more in-person classes? Vaccinate educators

*This piece first appeared in the Charlotte Observer

On the day North Carolina’s first COVID vaccine was administered last month, Governor Cooper tempered optimism, saying, “Seeing vaccinations underway gives us hope at the end of a hard year. But this virus continues to be extremely contagious and deadly.”

In the six weeks since, we’ve seen a frightening nationwide spike in viral infection rates and hospitalizations.  A change in guidelines by the CDC expanded early vaccine eligibility to include everyone age 65 and older.  The new criteria placed a lot of people ahead of essential workers, effectively moving North Carolina’s educators further back in the line.  There are currently no vaccines on the horizon for the vast majority of CMS educators and the rest of Group 3, and Mecklenburg County has yet to announce how it intends to vaccinate such a large group.

The lack of educator vaccines hasn’t stopped those advocating for an immediate return to in-person learning.  A recent opinion piece by CDC staff is being used as ammunition in that battle–despite the fact that it calls for a number of approaches that aren’t currently in place, including closing restaurants, ensuring outside air ventilation and using screening tests in schools to identify asymptomatic carriers.  

The rocky vaccine rollout has been confounded by factors such as limited supply and logistical snags.  But for many local educators, returning to in-person learning at a time of double digit positivity rates without being vaccinated first is a risk they’d prefer not to take.

Last week Alabama’s State Health Officer expanded that state’s vaccine eligibility to include educators.  The move came shortly after the deaths of four Montgomery Public Schools teachers led the state’s fourth largest district to draw a line in the sand and say classes would remain remote until vaccines were available for employees.  

That kind of support for North Carolina educators is sorely needed from decision makers at all levels.  Instead, having faced tremendous backlash from reopening advocates after recommending virtual instruction, County Health Director Gibbie Harris made one key change last week when extending a county health directive through February:  language advising remote learning has been removed.  The county’s announcement of the modified directive paraphrased the same CDC opinion piece as saying “with appropriate safety measures in place schools can be a safe location for students to learn.” It failed to mention that the safety measures in question are not actually in place.  

Harris’s 180 paves the way for the Board of Education to return students and staff for face-to-face instruction in February.  To be clear, the board has no control over vaccines beyond advocating for student-facing staff to be prioritized–which it did before vaccines were even available.  But it is responsible for deciding whether to resume in-person learning at a time when CMS dashboard metrics for public health are still well in the red and vaccines are not on staff calendars.

North Carolina’s educators have grown accustomed to feeling underappreciated in a state that has valued tax cuts over education for years.  Time and again we’ve heard lip service to the sacrifices we make and gratitude for our willingness to do more with less.  But in this moment the stakes of doing without a vaccine are life and death.  That’s a scary prospect.

Imagine if all stakeholders involved in this pandemic education struggle were to unite around a shared goal of calling on federal, state, and local officials to solve supply and distribution problems and begin Group 3 vaccinations.  Imagine if those utilizing lawsuits, harassment, and financial resources to push for an immediate return to face-to-face learning were to instead use their energy to make that return considerably safer for all involved, including their own families.  

Like so many things about this pandemic, remote learning has not been ideal for anyone, and teachers want nothing more than to be back in the classroom where we belong.  Let’s get our educators vaccinated so we can do so safely.  

North Carolina Senate bill to force in-person learning would not apply to charter schools

A bill expected to be voted on in the North Carolina Senate today would force an immediate return to in-person instruction for North Carolina schools.

That is, some of them.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Ballard, Lee, and Hise, and rumored to have some Democratic support as well. The bill cites mental health and academic impacts of pandemic building closures and claims they are a “disaster that some children may never recover from.” It asserts that for every one-third of a school year physical school buildings remain closed “current students will suffer a 3% loss in income across their entire careers.”

The bill requires that “all local school administrative units shall provide the option of in-person instruction to students in grades kindergarten through enrolled in that unit in accordance with this act for the remainder of the scheduled 2020-2021 school year.” But the term “local school administrative units” applies only to public school districts, not to charter schools or private schools.

If the law passes as written and is signed by Governor Cooper (or his veto overridden with support from Democrats), districts would be required to offer Plan A (minimal social distancing) to all students with IEPs and 504s, regardless of community COVID metrics. All other students grades K-12 would have the option of Plan B.

If the sponsors and supporters of this bill legitimately believe everything it says about the mental health of children, the lack of in-school COVID transmission risk, the impact on career earning, etc. they should extend this same requirement to all of North Carolina’s schools, not just traditional public schools.

You can read the current bill in its entirety below.

SB-37

Will North Carolina continue to whitewash history for its students?

Norman Rockwell –“Tom Sawyer Whitewashing the Fence”

At the height of this past summer’s protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, North Carolina State Board of Education chairman Eric Davis opened the board’s June meeting by saying Floyd’s name. Davis paused, then acknowledged that “anything less further supports the comfortable silence which surrounds and upholds the systemic practices which continue to plague our nation and state.”

Chairman Davis went on to say that addressing racism would take “intentional, determined, relentless commitment and work from all, especially those of us who are white and in positions of power and leadership.”

The following month, the board voted to delay implementation of new social studies standards, directing the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to focus more on teaching the hard truths of history.  The new standards would continue to be refined, then adopted in spring of 2021 for use in the 2021-22 school year.

In September, the board adopted an equity resolution which reads, in part, “We have an imperative duty to construct educational systems that eradicate racism,” and that “the State Board will provide resources such that students see themselves reflected in the curriculum to support culturally affirming environments in schools.”  (Board members Olivia Oxendine, Amy White, and Todd Chasteen voted against the resolution.)

In November, Catherine Truitt was elected state superintendent.  She took over on January 1.

On January 6, the board reviewed the latest draft (Draft 4) of the social studies standards.  Truitt asked the board for time to meet with DPI staff to discuss potential revisions.  Chairman Davis agreed to hold a special meeting in January to review any changes ahead of a vote on the standards in February.  Standards must be approved in February because of revision guidelines outlined in state law.

Strikingly, the same day Truitt asked for additional time to make revisions to the North Carolina social studies standards, a mob of white supremacist insurrectionists assaulted the US Capitol in a deadly coup attempt before being escorted gently out of the building by law enforcement in an unmistakable display of the systemic inequity that Chairman Davis referenced in June.

The special meeting was held this week, on January 27.  At the meeting, DPI’s Social Studies Section Chief Dr. Lori Carlin reported that a public survey on Draft 4 of the standards had received 85% favorable responses.

She then announced DPI’s recommendation that the following changes in terminology be made:

At Superintendent Truitt’s direction, DPI’s latest proposal removes the word “systemic” from the terms “systemic racism” and “systemic discrimination,” and turns “gender identity” into simply “identity” in the standards.

So, for example, an American History learning objective which previously readExplain how systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America” now reads “Explain how racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America,” with the only change being the removal of the word “systemic.”

When asked by board member James Ford about why the revision was made, Truitt explained, “I think systemic racism does not imply that certain laws or policies are racist, systemic racism indicates that our entire system of government and our constitution, as it is written and has been amended, are racist.”

Board members Amy White and Todd Chasteen also indicated their discomfort with an overly critical view of United States history.  White asked “Do these standards fall under the framework and the basic understanding that the United States of America and North Carolina is a great nation and a great state?”  Chasteen said he felt the standards included too much negativity and needed to focus more on “advancements and progress.”  

Ford said the input of the 85% of stakeholders who approved of Draft 4 needed to be respected and that the revised language was too vague, adding “Our job here is not to rescue America from constructive critique or to project optimism.”

The State Board of Education will meet again next week to vote on the proposed changes and implementation of the new social studies standards for next school year.  What is on the table will be the version with Superintendent Truitt’s amended language which removes “systemic racism,” “gender identity,” and “systemic discrimination” from the standards, but it’s still possible for someone on the board to make a motion to instead approve the Draft 4 standards that the public overwhelmingly endorsed.

My personal view is that the newly watered-down language serves the agenda of people who are comfortable with this nation’s status quo and/or don’t believe that institutional oppression exists.  This last second adjustment to the standards shows a clear lack of commitment to the change that our students deserve, the change our students have been promised repeatedly in the past few months by this very board.   Changing the language welcomes back the “comfortable silence which surrounds and upholds the systemic practices which continue to plague our nation and state” that Chairman Davis pledged to end in June.  

If you agree that our students deserve better than whitewashed history, and if you side with the 85% that overwhelmingly endorsed the standards before Superintendent Truitt “refined” them, please consider reaching out to the state board members who will be voting next week to ask them to approve Draft 4.

eric.davis@dpi.nc.gov 
alan.duncan@dpi.nc.gov 
olivia.oxendine@dpi.nc.gov 
reginald.kenan@dpi.nc.gov 
amy.white@dpi.nc.gov 
todd.chasteen@dpi.nc.gov 
James.Ford@dpi.nc.gov 
Jill.Camnitz@dpi.nc.gov 
Donna.Tipton-Rogers@dpi.nc.gov 
JWendell.Hall@dpi.nc.gov
mark.robinson@dpi.nc.gov 
dale.folwell@dpi.nc.gov 
catherine.truitt@dpi.nc.gov 

Below is a list of Superintendent Truitt’s proposed revisions:

Systemic racism – 1 time in American History (replaced with: racism)

AH.C&G.1.4  Explain how systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America.

Gender Identity – 3 times in Civic Literacy & 1 time in 8th grade (replaced with: identity)

CL.C&G.4.6  Critique the extent to which women, indigenous, religious, racial,  gender identity, and ability groups have had access to justice as established in the founding principles of government.

CL.H.1.2 Compare competing narratives of the historical development of the United States and North Carolina in terms of how each depicts race, women, tribes, gender identity, ability, and religious groups.

CL.H.1.3  Interpret historical and current perspectives on the evolution of individual rights in America over time, including women, tribal, racial, religious, gender identity, and ability.

8.C&G.1.5  Compare access to democratic rights and freedoms of various indigenous, religious, gender, gender identity, and racial groups in North Carolina and the nation.

Systemic discrimination – 1 time in Civic Literacy (replaced with: discrimination)

CL.H.1.6 Exemplify ways individuals have demonstrated resistance and resilience to inequities, injustice, and systemic discrimination within the American system of government over time.

Mark Johnson flips the State Ethics Commission the bird on the way out the door

When former Superintendent Mark Johnson rolled out his Common Core campaign stunt last February, it was not the first time he’d used his position for self promotion.  

Johnson had already earned countless educator eye rolls for the luxurious, colorful flyers with pictures of himself he was fond of blanketing school mailboxes with, and his use of the now-defunct ncsuperintendent.com website for official purposes was the frequent subject of scorn.

But when Johnson came out swinging against the Common Core State Standards for the first time ever–a full three years into his term as superintendent and just three weeks before he was due to run in the March 2020 Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor–it was just so obvious and shameless.  

A crowded Republican field.  The need to distinguish himself.  The choice of a favorite conservative boogeyman.

What was different this time was how Johnson chose to disseminate his campaign message.  The superintendent sent a message which said “NC Superintendent Johnson wants to remove Common Core from NC schools. Do you?” with a link to a survey filled with anti-Common Core language to 800,000 email addresses and 540,000 cell phone numbers of educators and public school parents and guardians.  

Johnson had sent mass emails before, but it was the first time he’d sent a mass text message, and it led many to question how the superintendent had gotten their personal cell phone numbers without their consent.  There was really only one logical explanation of the source:  local school contact information databases which contain email addresses and telephone numbers collected from employees and families of enrolled students.

The State Ethics Act clearly forbids elected and appointed officials from using their public position for private gain, so in mid-February I filed an official complaint with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission regarding Superintendent Mark Johnson using the resources of the office of state superintendent for his personal political campaign purposes.

parmenter-ethics-complaint

In mid-March I received word from the Commission that the investigation would be proceeding.  Then there was a protracted period of silence.  During summer I spoke briefly with the Commission’s Investigations Counsel Jameson Marks, expressing my concern about the pace of the investigation given the limited time Superintendent Johnson had remaining in office.   Mr. Marks said he was unable to discuss a pending investigation and could only confirm that it was moving forward.

The next communication I received about the investigation into my complaint came on December 31, Mark Johnson’s last day in office as state superintendent.  The Commission provided me a summary of its work and let me know that it was suspending the investigation because, as a private citizen, Johnson no longer fell under its jurisdiction.

Initially I was inclined to blame the slow pace of work on the part of the Ethics Commission.  After all, the law requires the commission to “conduct an inquiry into all complaints…in a timely manner.”  But as I read the Commission’s report on the matter, it became clear that the Commission had done everything it could under the law to carry out the investigation.

The problem, according to the Commission’s report, is that it had been met with “significant resistance” to information requests, “incomplete responses requiring frequent follow-up” and refusal on the part of Superintendent Johnson to be interviewed by Commission staff.  

The Commission noted that willful failure to cooperate with an investigation as required by law is considered malfeasance and can be cause for impeachment.  However, it also concluded that because Johnson had “declined to fully cooperate in the Commission’s investigation, the Panel is unable to determine whether there is probably cause to conclude that Respondent’s actions violated the Ethics Act.”

The Commission did add that, although the investigation had to be suspended when Johnson left office for jurisdictional reasons, if he is elected to an office covered by the Ethics Act in the future the investigation will resume and failure to cooperate will be addressed at that time.

It’s understandable that the Ethics Act, which exists to “ensure that elected and appointed State agency officials exercise their authority honestly and fairly, free from impropriety, threats, favoritism, and undue influence” can not apply to private citizens, and the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission ends when the individual under investigation is no longer considered a “covered person.”  But what’s really troubling about how all this played out is how easy it was for Mark Johnson to simply run out the clock for nearly a year and avoid accountability for his possible misuse of state resources.

A law that requires the Ethics Commission to conduct inquiries in a timely manner needs to include some sort of enforcement mechanism to enable them to do that.  There is powerful disincentive for unethical elected officials to comply with an investigation that may end with their removal from office, and Johnson’s playbook sends a clear message to others that cooperation is optional.

Mark Johnson seems likely to run for office in the future.  He said in a December mass email to educators, “My time in office concludes, for now, at the end of this month.”  There is no statute of limitations on ethics complaints in North Carolina, and if Johnson takes office again there are plenty of people with long memories who will ensure that he is held accountable.  In the meantime, this toothless ethics law needs to be fixed to make it less likely that our current leaders abuse their power as they serve North Carolinians.

You can read the Ethics Commission’s report in its entirety below:

Mark-Johnson-Ethic-Commission-Notice-of-Investigation-Suspension

Education advocates face increasingly ugly attacks

I hesitated to make this public, for reasons which I think will be obvious. But as attacks on vocal educators veer into uglier territory, I think it’s important for that ugliness to be exposed and called out when it crosses lines.

This week I went to the school building to package up some books to mail to my students. This letter from someone I don’t know in Texas was waiting in my mailbox:

It’s not the first time I’ve faced harassment for speaking up about education issues (although it’s the first I recall anyone crossing the Mom Line).

During this pandemic I’ve been accused of being personally responsible for the eighteenth largest school district in the country being closed for in-person instruction–not COVID, me–and have had people publicly call for my stalking.

After I pointed to a connection between white privilege and advocacy strategy by those pushing for a return to in-person learning, my comments were spotlighted by a local board of education member, leading to a torrent of harassment via social media and email. From there those comments gained the attention of a right wing North Carolina blogger and later a fringe national publication, both of whom misrepresented what I had said and stirred up a giant nest of extremely ugly hornets. Presumably that’s how this creepy guy in Grand Prairie, TX, even knows I exist.

From frequent contact with colleagues around the state who are active in advocacy efforts, I know I am not the only one who is facing personal attacks at a time when speaking up about safety and social justice has never been more important.

Let me say this as clearly as I can:

The goal of this harassment is to intimidate educators into silence.

In the case of issues of social justice and white privilege–topics that seem to provoke the most abhorrent reaction–the aim is to preserve a harmful status quo. Attacks around COVID safety issues are intended to force school employees to accept unsafe working conditions in silence.

We can’t allow those strategies to succeed. There is too much at stake.

We have to recognize this behavior for what it is, call it out when needed, and continue with the work of shining lights where they need to be shined.

2021 reset: Here’s what’s happening with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and COVID

statewide positivity rate as of 1/3 (source: NCDHHS)

As Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools emerges from a two week winter break and students prepare to return to class, this is a good time to review where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed in terms of school and the COVID pandemic.

At its December 8 meeting, the CMS Board of Education voted 6-3 to approve Superintendent Winston’s recommendation to move most students back to remote learning until January 19.

In explaining his recommendation, Mr. Winston cited growing community COVID spread and the potential for further increases in the weeks ahead. Exceptions to the move included EC and Pre-K students.

Mecklenburg County metrics at the time of this vote:

• 474 infections per day
• 11% positivity
• 242 acute care hospitalizations

At its December 22 emergency meeting, the CMS Board voted 8-1 to approve Superintendent Winston’s recommendation–supported by Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris–to move EC and Pre-K students to remote learning as well.

Mr. Winston again referred to worsening COVID metrics as well as the potential for infections to continue to rise following winter break, citing the impact of Thanksgiving on community spread as a recent example.

Mecklenburg County metrics at the time of this vote:

• 680 infections per day
• 12% positivity
• 340 acute care hospitalizations

The December 22 vote in favor of Superintendent Winston’s recommendation included two members who have recently opposed moves to remote learning. One of them was District 5 representative Margaret Marshall, who said, “We are in a rough time and I think most people in our community understand that. When our positivity rates are down and our cases per 100,000 are down, we are certainly able to deliver education better, and I had voted when all those numbers were in a more yellow and green area that we proceed with speed to that…but I do think that right now is a pretty clear time to pause that.”

District 1 representative Rhonda Cheek’s support of the move also came as a surprise to many, although the primary reason she cited for her vote was “the level of vitriol and hostility in our community” between those with disparate views on in-person vs. remote learning. Mrs. Cheek referred to the two weeks of additional remote learning for EC and Pre-K students as “a chance to cool off”–not for COVID infections but rather for stakeholders’ emotions–and added “Do not come to me a few days before the 19th and tell me you still can’t get this figured out to be safe…I’m not going to be on the yes side if we vote before the 19th to extend it further.”

The lone vote opposing the December 22 motion came from District 6 representative Sean Strain. Following the meeting Mr. Strain notified the public via Twitter that he intended to seek remedy from Senator Thom Tillis, although he didn’t explain what authority Tillis had over local school board decisions:

Mr. Strain has also been active in using Facebook to organize parents who oppose remote learning, calling on them to take action to pressure policymakers toward returning students for face-to-face instruction:

As CMS begins the second semester January 5, the impact of holiday travel on our community’s COVID infection rates is not yet known. The district’s data dashboard has not been updated since before the break, and Mecklenburg County’s data releases are also on pause due to the holiday. Both should be updated this week.

What we do know from the state level is that North Carolina set another record for highest number of new daily COVID cases with more than 9500 on New Year’s Day, and as of Sunday morning statewide positivity rate stood at 15.5%.

The current plan is for students of all grade levels whose families have not opted into Full Remote Academy to return for in-person instruction under Plan B (rotation with social distancing and masks) on January 19.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, January 12 at 6 pm. That meeting will include an opportunity for public comments.



It’s time for an honest conversation about race, COVID and school in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

As Mecklenburg County’s COVID metrics continue to spike, so do emotions around the debate over how public education should be handled during the pandemic. Some are concerned about the risk of holding classes in person at this time while others claim those safety concerns are misguided and outweighed by the harm of having students learn from home.

One common talking point used by those pushing for our schools to open for in-person instruction is that students of color are being disproportionately harmed by remote learning.

A lawsuit filed by five white plaintiffs against the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education and the North Carolina Association of Educators seeks to have the courts force CMS to “reestablish Active Instruction to the fullest extent permitted by the Governor of the State of North Carolina.”

The suit refers to the “unduly harsh effects” that remote instruction have on “minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged Students who have less access to technology, are provided less effective distance-learning, and are more heavily impacted by the lack of Active Instruction.”

It’s a line of reasoning that has been repeated over and over by individuals, the majority of them white, who have pressed our Board of Education to return CMS students to in-person instruction.

There is no question that we need to take a close look at the impact this pandemic is having on academic outcomes and how that is playing out along demographic lines. But it’s also important that our conversations about race and in-person vs. remote instruction are informed by actual data.

According to CMS’s beginning of the year School Diversity Report, total enrollment in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools breaks down thusly for the following groups:

African American and Hispanic: 63.9%
White: 25.8%

Here’s how enrollment in the Full Remote Academy looks for those same groups as of December 17:

African American and Hispanic: 70.8%
White: 15.3%

(*Please note that although I’m including numbers for only the three largest subgroups here, links for both reports above contain data for all subgroups)

Why is it that families of color might be opting for remote learning in relatively higher numbers than white families?

One reason is likely the disproportionate impact that COVID is having on communities of color.

Figures from the Center for Disease Control show that Latino and African American residents are three times as likely as white people to become infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from it.

Systemic inequities that have been around since long before anyone had even heard of COVID-19 have placed those communities at increased risk of contracting the virus.

People of color are more likely to work in service and production jobs that can’t be done remotely. They are also less likely to have health insurance, and while insurance policies can be purchased on the open marketplace by those who don’t qualify for Medicaid, those policies come with huge deductibles and copays that effectively discourage people from seeking treatment when they need it.

Medical facilities that serve mostly lower-income patients are less likely to have the resources for effective COVID treatment, because their profit margins are small and they have to write off unpaid bills as charity.

All of these factors and more combine to make exposure to COVID a more threatening prospect for families of color than it is for white people. As we continue to engage in dialogue about how to educate our children during this pandemic, we need to keep that fact in mind.

Republican state legislators slam educators working virtually, calling 2020-21 “a wasted year” and “a disaster”

Rep. Craig Horn (l) and Sen. Rick Horner (r)

Two powerful–and outgoing–Republican state legislators slammed the work North Carolina educators are doing to keep learning going during a pandemic at a Tuesday meeting of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

Representative Craig Horn, chair of the House K-12 Education Committee and the Education Appropriations Committee, referred to the pandemic as “a disaster for education.” Senator Rick Horner, chair of the Senate Education Committee and member of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, called 2020-21 “a wasted year.”

The comments are not sitting well with many North Carolina educators who are working tirelessly to provide students with an engaging learning experience during the most challenging time of their careers.

Michael Landers, a teacher in Cabarrus County, said, “Let’s temper the rhetoric and start something helpful for students and teachers. No one asked to be in this situation and no one chooses to educate in this way; but to have leaders, community members, and parents keep pushing this notion – it continues to undercut the valiant efforts of thousands of teachers each and every day.”

Craig Horn and Rick Horner are both on their way out after years of public service. Horn departs after a failed run for state superintendent, and Horner did not seek reelection after two terms in the Senate.

Both men served in the General Assembly during the Republican supermajority years which were, without question, a disaster for education. Both of them voted time and again for corporate and individual tax cuts which deprived public schools of billions of dollars in sorely-needed revenue. Both of them voted to eliminate retiree health benefits for all state employees hired beginning next month, making it harder to recruit teachers to North Carolina. Both of them have dutifully followed party leadership’s approach of thumbing noses at the Leandro ruling and recent WestEd report which outlined the many ways state legislators have failed to provide the education that is our students’ constitutional right.

Their concern about the state of public education in North Carolina has to be viewed through that lens.

In the case of Craig Horn, who has served a full decade in the House, it’s particularly ironic to hear criticism of online education efforts.

Last year, rather than using his leadership position to call on the General Assembly to commit resources to removing barriers to in-person Pre-K attendance, Horn championed the shockingly bad idea of having 4 year-old children of poverty attend virtual Pre-K. Keep in mind, that was before anyone had even heard of COVID-19.

Nobody asked for a pandemic to disrupt our normal education routines. Nobody is arguing that our students are better served through virtual learning. But the problem is the drumbeat about learning loss and wasted years is being used in an attempt to sway public opinion toward relaxing our guard against COVID at exactly the wrong time–when viral spread is frighteningly high and a vaccine is on the horizon.

North Carolina’s thousands of educators are doing the best they can to teach their students and stay alive right now. They deserve our respect and support.

To Representative Horn and Senator Horner, I say on behalf of those educators:

Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.

American Academy of Pediatrics: Child COVID cases have jumped 28% over the last two weeks

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics report released Monday, more than 144,000 new cases of children infected with COVID-19 were reported in the United States last week.

That number constitutes “by far the highest increase since this pandemic began.”

The report notes that as of November 19, nearly 1.2 million children (age 17 and under) have tested positive for the virus in the United States. Those cases represent 11.8% of all cases in the country.

In terms of current trends, AAP found that during the two weeks between November 5 and 19, there was a 28% increase in child COVID-19 cases, with 256,091 new cases during that period.

The report points out that, while severe illness is rare among children, “there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

You can read the report in its entirety below:

AAP-and-CHA-Children-and-COVID-19-State-Data-Report-11.19.20-FINAL

Can we stop blaming educators for getting COVID?

image by Nan Fulcher

*this article was first published in the Charlotte Observer

As COVID 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 coronavirus 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.

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

Last Friday a 51 year-old elementary art teacher at a Fayetteville charter school died of COVID.  Her name was Mary Ward.

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.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where the district has just begun reporting COVID 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 are staff and getting sick from circumstances outside of the school.” (typos not mine)

Here’s what public relations-minded school districts are implying when they claim that a COVID 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