A daily round-up of education news and views for the Carolinas.
29th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for principals, superintendents, teachers and administrators in North and South Carolina.

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NCES: 3% school enrollment drop is largest decline in over two decades
According to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, public school enrollment in 2020-21 fell by 3% compared to the previous year, marking the largest decline since the start of this century, according to researchers. The changes were concentrated in pre-K, which saw a 22% decrease, and kindergarten, which experienced a dip of 9%. Changes also differed by grade groupings, with a 13% decrease in pre-K and kindergarten, a 3% decrease in grades 1-8, and a slight increase of 0.4% in grades 9-12. NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr in a statement called the numbers "preliminary but concerning," noting the enrollment decreases were "widespread and affected almost every single state and every region of the country." Mississippi and Vermont had the largest declines at 5%, according to the NCES analysis, with Washington, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Maine trailing not far behind at 4% or more.  The District of Columbia, South Dakota and Utah saw the smallest enrollment drops, at less than 1%. Illinois was the only state to not submit data. 
U.S. states apply in numbers for accountability waivers
At the start of the year, the U.S. Department of Education made the decision to entertain waiver requests from the Every Student Succeeds Act’s requirements governing school and district accountability for the 2020-21 school year. The waivers mean relief from requirements that state and local officials identify and develop interventions for certain low-performing schools, such as those with relatively low graduation rates. Forty-one states, the Bureau of Indian Education, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have received waivers using a template released by the Department in early March for relief from certain accountability mandates.
School nurses call for greater say on reopening plans
In a piece for the Washington Post Eli Cahan, a medical student at New York University’s School of Medicine and a master’s degree student in health policy at Stanford University, highlights the critical work performed through the pandemic by school nurses, and explains how many feel they are being left out of conversations about reopening schools as districts have moved from hybrid to in-person teaching. He speaks to Linda Mendonca, president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses, who says there has long been tension between education officials and school nurses. She explains that lack of understanding related to health issues have historically led education officials in charge of district decision-making to push these discussions “down the totem pole,” which often “keeps nurses from having a seat at the table."
Juul to pay North Carolina $40m over claims it targeted youth
Juul Labs has agreed to pay North Carolina $40m to settle the first of a spate of lawsuits brought by states and localities claiming the e-cigarette company’s marketing practices fueled widespread addiction to nicotine among young people and created a new public health problem. Thirteen other states, including California, Massachusetts and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, have filed similar lawsuits. The central claim in each case is that Juul knew, or should have known, that it was hooking teenagers on pods that contained high levels of nicotine. “North Carolina is now the first state in the nation to hold Juul accountable for its instrumental role in creating a youth vaping epidemic, “ said Attorney General Josh Stein after a Monday morning court hearing on the settlement. The money will be used to help teens who are addicted to Juul products, as well as preventive programs, he added.
New school to offer career training to all students
A new West Ashley high school is to offer career training to all Charleston County students. The new school, which is located off of West Wildcat Boulevard next to West Ashley High School, opens in August and will serve around 1,000 students. It is the third Center for Advanced Studies built by the Charleston County School District and will be open to students from West Ashley and St. John’s high schools as well as Baptist Hill Middle-High School in Hollywood. “West Ashley CAS is that final step so we can include those thousands of students from West Ashley, St. John’s and Baptist Hill high schools,” said Richard Gordon, executive director of career and technology education at the district. When it opens, the West Ashley school will provide a variety of courses that prepare students for careers in health, construction, computer science and more.
Implications of Supreme Court’s decision in transgender bathroom case
Following the Supreme Court's decision not to take up a school board’s appeal over the rights of transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, the News & Observer looks at what it means for North Carolina. The order marked a victory for Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Virginia who sued the Gloucester County School Board in 2015 after school officials told him he had to use a unisex bathroom or the restroom that corresponded with the gender assigned to him at birth, which was female. It also solidified legal precedent established by the lower court protecting the rights of transgender students — including in North Carolina. By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court let stand a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which found federal anti-discrimination laws protect transgender students from policies requiring them to use the bathroom of their assigned gender. The ruling applied to the entirety of the 4th Circuit — including Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Higher suspension rate for Black students in Asheville City Schools
Data from the NC Department of Public Instruction shows that since the 2015-16 school year, at least 66% of all Asheville City Schools students receiving short-term suspensions — lasting 10 days or less — have been Black, despite the district having a total Black population of about 20%. The discipline disparity among students of color reached its recent peak during the 2015-16 school year when 72% of suspended students were Black. The 2019-20 school year, which is the state's most recent available data, showed 68% of suspended students were Black. The discrepancy is also seen in Buncombe County Schools, but on a much smaller scale. BCS has a Black population of about 7% according to the U.S. Department of Education, from 2015-20, Black students received between 19-24% of all district suspensions. Theoretically, all students are subject to the same punishment for the same offenses.
Outpouring for ousted superintendent
More than 500 staff members and teachers from across the Lexington-Richland 5 district paid tribute to resigning superintendent Christina Melton through thank you cards, a portrait and other mementoes that were unveiled June 28 to the school system's trustees at a meeting that also saw them censure a former colleague for leaking details of closed door talks that led to her departure. Dutch Fork High School teacher Ali Hendrick said: "We stand before you tonight to honor Dr. Melton in front of the board and our community. To say that many of us were shocked after the June 14 board meeting was an understatement. After a year of hardship and challenge, it left many of us feeling confused, angry and heartbroken.” It was the first time the public had a chance to address the board since Melton tearfully announced on June 14 that she'd be leaving at month's end from the 17,500-student district .

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