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.”
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.
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
Watching Tuesday night’s election results roll in real time was an excruciating experience for North Carolina educators.
After a long, pandemic-style campaign season where education advocates worked so hard to influence outcomes on behalf of public schools, we were filled with hope that we were on the brink of big change. Some of us believed that we were about to take back one or both chambers of the General Assembly and the superintendency. I entertained the notion that I would wake up on Wednesday to a new reality with people in key positions of power who share the view that strong public schools are the foundation of a democratic society, people who want to partner with teachers to create policies that lead to better outcomes for our kids.
Early votes showed up first and gave cause for optimism. Then in-person votes began to be tallied, and the long, slow, inevitable burn that we’ve become so accustomed to in North Carolina set in. That feeling that the tide is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
By the end of the night here’s what the political landscape looked like for public education:
*Our next state superintendent will be Catherine Truitt, an individual with a clear pro-charter and privatization agenda who has a history of disparaging education advocates and throwing stones at NCAE.
*Our lieutenant governor is going to be Mark Robinson, a homophobic conspiracy theorist who doesn’t believe systemic racism exists and who makes Dan Forest look almost reasonable.
*Dan Folwell stays on as treasurer. He’s got a history of playing reckless games with state employee health care and a troubling lack of empathy.
*Republicans will retain their majorities in both the House and Senate, and it’s likely that Phil Berger will stay as the leader of the Senate and continue to unilaterally block any real progress on education policy issues.
I’m going to be honest–my initial reaction on Wednesday morning was to question all the time and effort we put into this election. The endless hours of researching and writing, phone banking and working the polls, just to end up at the same point where we were started.
Then I started my teaching day, and I was immediately reminded of my “why.”
I looked into the faces of my students and thought about their many needs which are going largely unmet by a system that cares more about stuffing money into the pockets of corporations than giving them the high quality education their constitution demands.
The truth is, we do have some things to be grateful for. We re-elected Roy Cooper and not Dan Forest, who had vowed to immediately lift mask requirements and push everyone back into school at a time when COVID infections are dangerously high. Republicans didn’t take back the super majority, which means Cooper still holds veto power over troublesome legislation. It’s not the disaster we were experiencing five years ago in this state when Pat McCrory was governor and legislators could do whatever they wanted.
Howard Zinn famously remarked “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” And as we enter the next chapter of North Carolina’s history with Phil Berger still wearing the conductor’s hat, those of us who have dedicated our lives to serving children in public school have a choice. We can just sit down in exhaustion and defeat and let it play out.
Or we can lean on each other, roll up our sleeves, and continue to fight for the schools we all deserve.
As the race for NC state superintendent enters its final week, Republican Catherine Truitt has just received the maximum donation from a source that is sure to raise eyebrows among supporters of traditional public schools:
Robert Luddy is a North Carolina millionaire who has founded a string of private and charter schools in the state.
His charter school Franklin Academy made news a couple of years back when complaints were lodged over language in its student handbook that read “promotion, affirmation or discussion of behaviors associated with the terms, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’ including homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism, are expressly prohibited.”
The last 20 years have ushered in a new America, which is moving away from God and traditional American values and replaced by an ever-growing government at all levels, squeezing out private initiative, a core strength of our country. Worse, the U.S. education system has been coopted by Marxists who hate America. They teach our children that America is an evil country based on racism and white supremacy. The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a shameful work of historical revisionism that insists that America was built on slavery, is now taught in schools across the country.
To paraphase G. K. Chesterton: the greatest criminals are educators who feed poison to students.
I have a feeling the thousands of North Carolina educators who have dedicated their lives to lifting our children up and providing them with opportunities would disagree with that characterization.
When Tea Party Republicans took over state government in 2010, their veto-proof majority in both chambers of our General Assembly began an education policy Dark Age, churning out bill after bill that harmed our schools.
Legislators removed the cap on charter schools, and their number has since doubled. These schools siphon money away from traditional public schools and increase racial and economic segregation, and they have failed to provide better alternatives for students who need the most help.
They slashed funding for teachers assistants. We’ve lost 7,500 since the peak a decade ago.
Legislators created the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, sending tens of millions of dollars each year to unaccountable schools which are legally able to discriminate based on factors like religion and sexual orientation.
They defunded the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a high-quality source of committed, homegrown teachers.
They passed the Read to Achieve law, expanding testing and threatening 3rd graders with retention in an ill-advised attempt at addressing reading deficiencies. When that didn’t work, legislators added bonuses for test scores which harm morale by ignoring the contributions many members of the team have to a child’s success. Unsurprisingly, reading outcomes have not improved.
They stripped retiree health benefits starting January 2021, making it harder to recruit and retain good teachers in North Carolina at a time when enrollment in our state’s teacher preparation programs has plummeted 35% since 2013.
But arguably the most impactful change of all has been Republican tax policy.
Over the past decade, state legislators have passed 6 corporate tax cuts and repeatedly cut income taxes in a manner that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest among us. According to the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Alexandra Sirota, the estimated cumulative revenue loss during that time is $12 billion. Those are dollars which could have hired teaching assistants or repaired leaky gym roofs.
Throughout the course of this Dark Age, one of the biggest overall failures of the Republican majority has been its approach to the process of governing. Many of the aforementioned laws were passed in budget bills, meaning they didn’t go through a deliberative committee process but rather were written behind closed doors and then passed without any opportunity for meaningful conversations. That’s not how effective policy is written, and it’s not the kind of government the people of North Carolina deserve.
When Governor Cooper was elected in 2016 and then the legislative supermajority was broken in 2018, I held out some naive hope that things might change and that there could be a new willingness on the part of House and Senate Republicans to work across the aisle because of the governor’s veto power.
Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way at all. The fact that we’re still operating on the 2018 budget is clear evidence: the toxic culture that developed under the supermajority, one in which loyalty to party trumps any desire for meaningful collaboration on behalf of North Carolinians, has continued unabated.
A full decade of backwards priorities and terrible leadership has led to this crucial election at a time when our schools are desperate for change. We need people in power who see public education as a human right and not a commodity. We need leaders who truly believe that our children deserve the opportunities that a high quality public education can provide.
Breaking the majorities in the House and the Senate will allow pro-public education legislators to end North Carolina’s education Dark Age and get to work building the K-12 education system we need.
Truitt’s top four donors (after herself) are here:
All of them have donated the maximum allowed under law, and their donations comprise just under half of her total campaign haul.
James Goodnight is the richest person in North Carolina and CEO of SAS, the company that produces EVAAS. For the uninitiated, EVAAS is a software system which uses standardized test scores to measure “teacher effectiveness.”
SAS has a contract with North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to provide that data which state legislators have used for the controversial school report cards and to offer cash bonuses to teachers in exchange for high test scores.
EVAAS is deeply unpopular among many North Carolina teachers who believe it’s ludicrous to focus solely on standardized test scores to measure the ways a teacher adds value to a student’s learning.
Ann Goodnight is James’s wife and director of Community Relations for SAS. She serves on the board of Best NC, a pro-business education reform organization which successfully lobbied for North Carolina’s current principal pay plan.
That pay plan–which uses EVAAS data to determine compensation–was so poorly conceived that the legislature had to pass a hold harmless clause to prevent a massive exodus of North Carolina principals as salaries could have dropped up to $20,000.
Goodnight also serves on the board of Cary Academy, a private school she founded with her husband which charges tuition of more than $25,000.
Jonathan Hage is founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA, a for-profit “education management organization” with annual revenue of $750 million.
Catherine Truitt’s principal donors are individuals who embrace the philosophy that education is a commodity that can be bought and sold. Those twisted values have filled their bank accounts with riches that most of us can’t even imagine, and they apparently see Truitt as their pathway to even larger piles of money.
Truitt’s opponent, Jennifer Mangrum, is a longtime elementary school teacher and current professor of education at UNC-Greensboro. Mangrum believes that education is a human right, not a commodity. She believes in strong traditional public schools and will not be bought by charter school magnates or software billionaires.
Those are the values we need leading North Carolina’s K-12 public schools.
In a recent endorsement interview with the Observer’s Editorial Board, Republican candidate for state superintendent Catherine Truitt did not hold back on her disdain for North Carolina’s largest professional organization for educators.
During her unsuccessful bid for the Observer’s endorsement, Truitt falsely accused NCAE of excluding her from its own endorsement process and said “They’re not advocating for students.”
Truitt’s entire interview video is posted below, as is a transcript of her thoughts on NCAE. Those comments begin at the 16:19 mark.
Ned Barnett (Associate Editor): The favorite target of legislative Republicans is the North Carolina Association of Educators, who they sort of demonize as this union, and they sort of pass up no opportunity to go after. Is it a healthy thing really to have an arrangement where this is a group that represents teachers and educators in the state, and just make them the enemy and have it be at loggerheads like that? Or can you do anything to sort of ask them to talk with NCAE?
Catherine Truitt: I’m gonna have to disagree with the premise of your question there, respectfully. So, I’ve had countless teachers reach out to me and say “This is not the same NCAE that I worked with 10, 15 years ago.” This NCAE has been very vocal with the N & O in an interview last year that their plan is to move the organization towards union status, which is illegal in North Carolina. Their Executive Director, who is not an educator, is an attorney from Ohio who was brought here to bring about collective bargaining which, again, is illegal in North Carolina.* I don’t believe that… I think that the NCAE plays a valuable role for some teachers, providing fellowship and support their members. We don’t even know what their real membership is because they’re not honest about their numbers with Auditor Wood. And this group has an agenda which is not necessarily student centered. Their agenda comes from Washington D.C. It is a political agenda that represents one side of the aisle over another. And I’m not denying that Republicans go after the NCAE, but it is certainly two-sided.
I was not offered an interview with the NCAE for their endorsement.
Ned Barnett: Did you request one?
Catherine Truitt: I should not have to. I reached out to them to let them know that I have not re-… requested… The candidate doesn’t request an interview. I wasn’t even aware of how this process worked, because I’m a new candidate. And so, when I did reach out to the NCAE and asked for them to prove that they had offered me this opportunity, they could not do so. They claimed they had sent things to me in email. And they could not produce an email that was sent to me to set up an appointment to receive an interview.
Ned Barnett: So I take it that your answer is yes, that the contentious relationship would continue between the superintendent and the association of educators.
Catherine Truitt: What I would say is that I will always, as I did when I was Governor McCrory’s education advisor, I never turned down a meeting. I am always willing to meet with the NCAE, and I would love for them to be in the room and have a role. It’s up to them if they want to advocate for students. They’re not advocating for students right now.
Truitt’s unoriginal line about NCAE being a political front organization and not advocating for children is a tired, defensive talking point often parroted by state lawmakers who don’t like being criticized for a decade of terrible education policy.
But what’s this about being excluded from NCAE’s endorsement process?
Truitt first made this claim in a telephone call I had with her last spring at her request. During that lengthy conversation, Truitt told me NCAE was a partisan organization and, as evidence, said she hadn’t been given an opportunity to participate in an endorsement interview, insinuating that the organization would only consider endorsing Democratic candidates.
I told her I’d check into that for her, and as soon as we hung up the phone I contacted the folks at NCAE who handle endorsements.
Marge Foreman, NCAE’s Government Relations specialist, explained to me that contact information for candidates is taken from their official filing on the Board of Elections website and contact is made by email only if an email address is available. Candidate questionnaires are sent to every candidate for statewide office by snail mail, regardless of party affiliation.
Foreman said the next step is for candidates to respond to the questionnaire to indicate their interest in participating. For those who choose not to respond, that’s the end of the process.
Foreman was able to provide me with a screenshot of the actual mailing label that had been used to send Truitt’s questionnaire to the PO Box on her candidate filing:
Truitt was absolutely sent an NCAE candidate questionnaire but never filled out and returned it.
I immediately reached out to Catherine Truitt to try to clear up her confusion:
Truitt never responded to my email.
It’s disappointing that, as a candidate for statewide office, Catherine Truitt is continuing to peddle this false narrative in support of her claims that NCAE is a partisan organization, especially after I took the time to investigate and clarify a process that she herself admits she didn’t understand.
Apparently the truth didn’t fit Truitt’s narrative.
As for the Observer’s endorsement process, the Editorial Board just announced its support of Truitt’s opponent, Democrat Jennifer Mangrum. The Observer was uncomfortable with how Truitt aligned herself with Republican lawmakers on core issues and noted that Mangrum “separates herself from Truitt with her strong advocacy for public schools and teachers.”
*note: NCAE’s Executive Director is John Wilson, who was born in Burlington, NC and received education degrees from Western Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill. He was a long time Exceptional Children teacher.
During last Monday’s board meeting, Cabarrus County Board of Education member Laura Blackwell was caught on Zoom saying “This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen.“
The comment was made privately to Board Chair Rob Walter, who ignored the use of an appalling term educators have spent decades trying to remove from the educational setting and instead agreed with Blackwell’s criticism of remote instruction during the pandemic.
The policy requires that board members “model civility to students, employees and all elements of the community by encouraging the free expression of opinion by all board members and engaging in respectful dialogue with fellow board members on matters being considered by the board.”
At 4 pm, the Cabarrus Association of Educators is holding a “Rally to End the Word” outside the Cabarrus County Education Center (4401 Old Airport Rd. Concord, NC 28026). Overflow parking will be available at the nearby Cabarrus Arena.
Cabarrus Association of Educators has released the following statement about the matter:
Educators have learned to conduct themselves as professionals, even outside of the classroom, knowing that the eyes of the community are always upon them. We have the right to expect a similar high standard from our elected officials especially during a professional meeting.
The lack of decorum demonstrated at several board meetings and the inappropriate language used shows an utter disregard for the position held, the opinions of others and the community represented. Trust has been broken between the community and the board of education. Serious steps need to be taken in order to restore that trust.
Michelle Rengert President – Cabarrus Association of Educators
Blackwell posted an apology for the comment, which she made about the district’s reopening plans to board chair Rob Walter when she didn’t realize the Zoom meeting was still being broadcast to listeners.
In her apology, Blackwell attributed her use of the degrading term to her “immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community,” then quickly pivoted to victim mode:
I want to take this opportunity to address the very unfortunate incident that took place at last night’s school board meeting. During one of the breaks, my microphone remained on and comments that were made in private suddenly became very public. Whether in private or public, I acknowledge my comments were insensitive and inappropriate. I allowed my immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community to manifest itself through emotion and frustration. Although I never intended to offend anyone, I do realize that my words had the potential to cause pain and reinforce a negative stereotype. I deeply regret my choice of words and I sincerely apologize to anyone that I may have offended.
The last 12 hours have been some of the most difficult of my life. I have received messages that have both questioned my integrity and my character. However, not to be overshadowed by hatred and political posturing, there has been an overwhelming amount of loving support from so many of you that know my heart and believe in the work that we are trying to accomplish together. Because of each of you, tomorrow morning I will dust myself off and get right back to serving this community, our students, our amazing faculty and staff members and this county with the same level of passion as I had on day one.
In response to Blackwell’s offensive speech, the Special Olympics of Cabarrus County released a statement that noted the harm caused by stereotyping people with developmental and intellectual disabilities:
Many listeners have noted that Chair Rob Walter agreed with the essence of Blackwell’s comments and did not offer any pushback whatsoever on her use of a word that educators have worked hard to erase from educational settings.
Walter, who is currently running for reelection, has said the board will review the incident and related policies and will deal with the matter at the next school board meeting if any further action is required.
In a September 21 letter sent to Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore and her core team, the Wake County Division of Principals and Assistant Principals expressed serious reservations about the feasibility of returning to in-person instruction on October 26.
A whopping 90.9% of administrators surveyed preferred a second semester return.
Even those who indicated they felt a late October return could be accomplished felt that additional supports needed to be put in place before it happened.
Those advocating for a delay until the end of the first semester felt the additional time would allow for COVID numbers to further decrease and for schools to better adapt instruction to a challenging hybrid model.
Below are some comments from the survey.
The entire letter is posted at the end of this article.
Teachers, students, and families need stability. For high schools, it is extremely challenging for teachers to re-design their curriculum multiple times to adjust from a brick and mortar to an online setting. If we transition again in the middle of a semester, teachers will need to navigate their curriculum again and figure out how to teach in both worlds (VA and in-person setting). I am highly concerned that this change will push them over the edge. Please allow high schools to remain online for the Fall semester.
I am very worried about what to do when we need a sub and do not have a sub. Have you collected data on how many staff members at each school have quarantine themselves because of an exposure? I lost count. Child care is also a big issue with our staff.
I believe returning in January would give Fall VA families and potentially full-time VA families an opportunity to return to F2F with confidence. It also provides a smoother transition for staffing, as I need the Fall VA teachers to be in whatever F2F rotation or full return we have. I simply cannot staff any form of F2F without the return of Fall VA teachers to a F2F model. Teacher assignment changes will definitely occur if we return prior to January, and we really don’t have the allotments needed to do this sooner. Stability for families should be considered as important as Safety.
I imagine YR schools would also fare better because returning to assigned tracks is more feasible at the end of first semester.
I think that returning to school during the month of October is too soon. I don’t believe that we will have enough time to properly prepare for our students to return. We have not received specific guidelines on what school will look like and what the safety measures truly consist of. Teachers will have to replan and adjust many lessons in order for them to provide instruction in person as well as online. I am also very concerned that transportation services needs will not be at the forefront. I can foresee many delays and lots of confusion. There are always hiccups and the beginning of the school year and due to the circumstances and student cohorts, I worry about safety and efficiency.
I think that the biggest issues are going to be transportation and substitutes. I do not believe that social distancing is going to be possible on buses. Also, when teachers get Covid (which they will- either from school or from the community) what are we going to do about substitutes?) We have a teacher out right now with Covid- but she can teach from her house because of remote learning- that won’t be possible if students are in school unless there is additional supervision.