Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s school reopening plans:
Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday drew a path through the uncharted terrain of a pandemic. He announced that North Carolina’s public schools will open in August with a mix of classroom and remote learning.
It was a tough call from Cooper, but the right one. Given a choice between opening schools as usual or limiting them to remote instruction, he picked a middle course. He balanced risks and benefits and chose an option that’s the least undesirable.
That choice splits the extremes and allows for flexibility. North Carolina’s schools can start all online, or offer a blend of in-person and online instruction, but they must be prepared to close if infections keep climbing.
In choosing a middle course, Cooper has also committed to the most complicated one. There are still major questions: Will enough teachers participate in in-person classes? Will the legislature provide enough funding for increased school safety measures? Can school districts make the transition to a blended approach without confusion and missteps?
Cooper has not solved the challenges of opening schools in a pandemic. He has invited school officials, teachers and parents to take on those challenges.
Cooper’s choice of a hybrid approach will not satisfy President Trump or Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, both of whom want children to return to school as if it were 2019 and more than 135,000 Americans had not died from the virus. Nor will it please those who think it’s too dangerous to have any in-person school instruction as infection rates are spiking in the South and West. On Monday, the school districts of Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Diego, under pressure from teachers concerned about safety, announced that their schools will be online-only this fall. In North Carolina, many teachers also want urban districts to hold off on in-person classes.
Local school officials were prepared for the governor’s recommendation and are already fashioning their own hybrid plans.
Wake County, the state’s largest district with 162,000 students, is offering a Virtual Academy that has been flooded with 18,000 applications in less than a week. Wake also plans to offer rotating attendance – one week in schools, two weeks online – to allow for social distancing in schools. Durham will offer in-person instruction for grades K-8, with high school students learning from home. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will have a staggered re-entry plan that calls for high school students to take virtual classes until the sixth week of the school year. Mecklenburg County is likely to mix remote and in-person instruction.
Meeting the challenges of safely opening schools will require an effort by the whole state. That means a strict adherence to social distancing guidelines – especially the wearing of masks in public. It also means more state funding to support safer school conditions with more personal protective equipment, increased janitorial services and changes on air circulation systems.
A curious quality of COVID-19 is that it appears not to sicken children as much as adults. But as the school year approaches, it’s clear that the pandemic does profoundly affect children in other ways. It is cutting into their education and cutting them off from classmates and teachers, sports and extracurricular activities. The consequences, especially for poor children, could profoundly shape their lives.
The challenge for state and local leaders, and for parents and teachers and school volunteers, is to find a way to bring children through the fog of this pandemic in a way in which they can continue to learn and grow. Cooper has encouraged schools to take the most flexible path. A rise in infections may require turning back, but for now it is the best way forward.
The Winston-Salem Journal on remaining questions surrounding the 2019 death of a Black Greensboro man in police custody:
Say his name: John Neville.
Neville is a 56-year-old Black man who died while in police custody last December.
Last week, five former Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office detention officers and a nurse at the county jail were charged with the involuntary manslaughter of the Greensboro resident.
According to the recently-released autopsy report, while in jail on Dec. 2, Neville apparently suffered a seizure and fell out of a top bunk in his cell. Disoriented, he struggled with jailers even as they tried to assist him. He was eventually restrained in a prone position, face down on his stomach with his arms behind his back.
While restrained, Neville asked for help, saying, “I can’t breathe,” “Let me go,” “Help me up” and “Mama.”
At some point, at least one person in the room told Neville, “Come on, buddy, if you can talk, you can breathe.”
But when jailers realized that Neville had indeed stopped breathing, they tried to free him of his handcuffs. The key broke. Jailers tried to use bolt cutters to cut the handcuffs off, but they didn’t work, so they had to get a second pair. Efforts to free Neville from restraint took about nine minutes.
Two days later in Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Neville was declared dead. A CT scan revealed brain damage, apparently from Neville being held prone, which stopped his heart from pumping blood.
The State Bureau of Investigation submitted a report to Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough in April, but his office didn’t acknowledge Neville’s death until the Journal asked about him in June.
Which leads to questions, including: Why did it take so long for the sheriff to acknowledge Neville’s death? Why did it take so long to charge the personnel involved?
And most important, what could have been done to prevent Neville’s death and how can such deaths be prevented in the future?
Kimbrough has been properly supportive of the former detention officers. “I want to say that good men and women made a bad decision that day and as a result a good man died,” Kimbrough told the Journal. “And for that, that’s a tragic day and a tragic situation - good people trying to do the right thing.”
Neville’s death did involve an ill-timed cascade of bad luck - a broken handcuff key followed by ineffective bolt cutters - all while struggling with a disoriented prisoner. But the real culprit was the prone position in which he was confined.
Releasing videotape taken during Neville’s restraint could help or harm the jailers’ case, but Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill has declined to make the recording public until after the trial, if then. The News & Observer of Raleigh has petitioned the court to release the videotape, but a judge won’t rule on that petition until near the end of the month.
The public has a right to know what’s on that videotape - especially since the public is footing the bill for it in the first place. If authorities want trust, respect and cooperation from the public, they need to be as transparent as possible.
Authorities who keep information like this under cover sometimes create the perception that they have something to hide. That’s certainly what the protesters who have been demonstrating outside the sheriff’s office think.
That said, a review of procedures - especially restraints - is in order. If anything can be done to prevent a similar incident in the future, something may yet be gained from this tragedy.
The Fayetteville Observer on the fate of fall sports during the coronavirus pandemic:
Que Tucker put it best when she spoke this month about the return of high school sports this fall in the age of COVID-19.
“Sports don’t exist if there’s no school,” said Tucker, who is commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletics Association.
The statement should be self-evident. The “student” part is first in the designation “student-athlete,” and the safety of our school athletes are of equal priority to that of other students.
We share people’s desire to get back to normal or at least a cautious new normal, and for many people that includes high school sports. But Tucker and county school officials know safety must come first.
Many school systems, facing a deadline of next month to open and a virus that appears to be surging in our state, are looking at plans built largely around remote learning, at least for now.
Cumberland County Schools on July 9 laid out three options for its more than 50,000 students to return to school. Two of them involve remote learning away from school buildings. A third, hybrid option is a mixture of remote learning and limited in-person instruction in small groups of students.
While these seem like safe options for parents - with the hybrid model being the one of most concern - it hardly sounds like an environment favorable to the full-on return of school sports. If the classroom is not safe enough for students, why would the close contact environment of sports be safe? Then too, the kind of mass-testing for the virus that might be necessary for a return to play would seem to be out of reach for most school systems, whose budgets are already stretched thin.
Meanwhile, some of the first experiments in school sports, at least at the college level, have been less than encouraging. The UNC-Chapel Hill football team voluntarily put its workouts on hold this past week after 37 student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19. The school’s health department and UNC Hospitals had administered 429 tests to people involved in athletics programs. Last month, dozens of Clemson University football players were among student-athletes who tested positive as the university administered hundreds of tests.
The Ivy League, which in March led the way on closing college campuses because of the virus, has announced it will cancel all fall sports. At the high school level, even in Texas, where high school football is king, officials are seriously talking of scrubbing it for the fall.
As for the spring? Who knows. Tucker said many options are under discussion, including starting football then or “flipping” fall and spring sports. “Whatever we do,” she said, “it has to be good for our 421 schools.”
Ultimately the viability of school sports for the fall may come down to Gov. Roy Cooper’s overall decision on schools, which he is expected to announce this coming week.
We would remind people that this shutdown on sports will not be for always. One day we will get a handle on this disease; initial vaccine trials are already underway. Most major hospitals appear to be doing a capable job of treating COVID-19 patients, and the death rate appears to have flattened. This has been a positive metric in these trying times when the virus is spiking in many parts of the nation.
North Carolina’s decision to close earlier than some states and reopen later has so far helped protect our intensive care units from hitting capacity. If we all continue to mask up, we can hopefully keep it that way.
Sports and spectator events will return. We just have to take our time, especially when it comes to student-athletes.
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