RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced guidelines Tuesday that will allow North Carolina K-12 schools to reopen at reduced in-classroom capacity but give parents and school districts the choice to have classes entirely online.
The guidelines from Cooper and the Department of Health and Human Services allows in-person instruction if students, teachers and staff members wear face coverings and people remain 6 feet apart at school. The plan also lets families decide whether to opt-in for remote learning.
“We know schools will look a lot different this year,” Cooper said in an afternoon news conference. “They have to to be safe and effective.”
Districts were previously directed to draft three plans. Plan A called for entirely in-person classes, Plan B included a hybrid of online and in-person learning and Plan C promoted fully remote instruction. Cooper decided to go with Plan B statewide, though districts could elect to implement Plan C. In many cases, students are expected to rotate between in-person and online instruction in a given week because of the limited spaces schools have to keep students 6 feet apart.
Cooper also announced Tuesday he’ll extend a current executive in order to keep the state in Phase 2 of its reopening for another three weeks, which will keep businesses including bars, movie theaters and gyms closed through Aug. 7. Bowling alleys will return to being closed under a temporary order the state Supreme Court issued Tuesday.
State law appears to prevent remote learning during the first week of school, though Cooper insisted his plan is legal because of the broad emergency authority he has during the pandemic. Republicans worry Cooper’s directive further harms businesses and will hurt students’ ability to receive the in-person instruction they need.
“Today’s announcement that classrooms will remain closed to students either periodically or completely exacerbates the administration’s economic and public health failures while adding even more uncertainty for struggling families in North Carolina,” said Republican House Speaker Tim Moore.
School districts that decide to reopen will need to conduct temperature checks, clean and disinfect common surfaces and provide hand sanitizer for every classroom. Schools will also be prohibited from offering self-service food options and hosting activities, such as assemblies, that bring large groups together.
Cooper announced the state will give all public schools at least five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher and staff member.
On Tuesday, the state reported nearly 2,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and said that about 1,100 people were hospitalized with the virus.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson was not present at the news conference. Shortly after Cooper’s announcement, he said in a statement he’s glad the governor lifted the 50% occupancy limits on schools but “would prefer we go further with a plan that is built around local control to facilitate greater flexibility for communities based on their metrics.”
Cooper’s plan will likely draw the ire of President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos, both of whom have threatened to withhold federal funds from states that don’t provide in-person classes to all students.
“We don’t respond to those kind of threats,” Cooper said. “We’re making decisions on the health and safety of our students, our teachers and our families and the best way to get them a quality education.”
Pasquotank County will move the Confederate monument from the courthouse square, using the “public safety” exception in state law allowing its removal.
The Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Monday night to move the monument and have the board’s Special Projects Committee determine where it will go. That board is expected to meet next month.
Voting to move the monument from where it’s been since 1911 were Commissioners Lloyd Griffin, Cecil Perry, Barry Overman and Charles Jordan. Voting to keep the monument on the courthouse square were Commissioners Sean Lavin and Frankie Meads and board Chairman Jeff Dixon.
A 2015 law passed by state lawmakers prohibited the removal of “objects of remembrance” like Confederate monuments from public property without state approval. The law, however, included several exceptions, one allowing removal if the monument has become a “threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition.”
County Manager Sparty Hammett told the board Monday that keeping the monument at the county courthouse could turn into a “public safety issue.”
Hammett noted a there was a recent “riot” in Greenville over its Confederate statue and that the monument at the Pasquotank Courthouse has been vandalized in the past.
The county also recently had to put up fencing around the statue after law enforcement intelligence showed a group from Virginia was planning to come to Elizabeth City in opposition to a proposed peaceful rally.
“As a public official and based on observations, research, community discussion and in consultation with law enforcement, I have determined the Confederate monument poses a threat to public safety,” Hammett told the board. “It creates a dangerous condition for the property, law enforcement and citizens in our community.”
Leaving the monument at the courthouse could make it a target for future protests, Hammett said.
“As more jurisdictions move their Confederate monuments, there is a likelihood that the remaining monuments will bring in outside groups that could result in both property damage and violence,” Hammett said.
The board’s vote followed more than an hour of public comment and commissioner deliberations on the monument’s future. Around 20 people addressed commissioners about the monument, with about 60 percent speaking in favor of keeping it on the courthouse square and around 40 percent seeking its removal.
Larry Cooke said he was opposed to removing the monument, calling it a memorial and likening it to a “headstone in a family cemetery.”
Forrest Turner also was opposed to the moving the monument, calling it a “reminder of a distant past.” He also told the board that the monument’s removal should be put on the ballot for the county’s voters to decide.
“It is an artistic reminder of a distant time,” Turner said. “It was built by our ancestors, the people who lived in this area. Most of us have family that go back that far. I understand how people could be offended by that culture, it offends me. But it is still a memorial to the dead who served in a war. We should keep the history, we should learn by the history, and we should teach the history.”
However, Ray Donnelly, a former city councilor, urged the board to remove the monument, saying it doesn’t belong on public property.
“On public property it does tend to be intimidation,” Donnelly said. “Jim Crow, we don’t need that. I don’t have a problem with the monument at all, I can appreciate monuments like that but move it to another location — not on public property.”
Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers also supported moving the monument, calling on the county to remove a “symbol of oppression” from public property.
“It is the right thing to do,” Rivers said. “Let us send a message to all the citizens of Pasquotank County, to the state and to nation that we in Pasquotank County can do the right thing and send a message out that we stand for justice for all.”
Meads said he was opposed to removing the monument because it is a part of the county’s history and wondered why after 109 years it has all of the sudden become a problem.
“What we seem to forget is that this is a reminder of history that took place,” Meads said. “We need to know history so it does not repeat itself. We need to be constantly reminded and that is why that monument is sitting there.”
Overman said he understands that the monument causes pain for some people and that he struggled with the issue. Sending the issue to the Special Projects Committee to find a more “suitable location” away from the courthouse would be a compromise, he said.
“I don’t take these decisions lightly,” Overman said. “I received a lot of emails and a lot of letters and we have 40,000 people that live in the county. Every single one of them has an opinion on this and other issues. Let’s see if there is a compromise to where we can move it.”
The Special Projects Committee, whose members include Dixon, Perry and Overman, will now study how the monument should be removed, how much it will cost to remove and where it should be relocated. The panel will then return to commissioners with their recommendations for a vote.
CAMDEN — Camden County planning officials are seeking additional information before deciding whether to recommend approval of a large planned development in the South Mills area.
A public hearing on the project’s master plan was originally slated for last week’s regular meeting of the Camden Board of Commissioners. It was delayed, however, after both planning board members and county agencies raised concerns about the project.
The concerns included the ability of public safety agencies to serve the development and the project’s potential impact on stormwater drainage and the county school district.
South Mills Landing LLC is proposing a 581-unit planned development on more than 229 acres in South Mills that would located off Main Street and adjacent to Horseshoe Road and U.S. Highway 17.
County officials reviewed and approved a concept plan for a 581-unit project at South Mills Landing in 2019, and a master plan was submitted for a 580-unit planned development in January.
According to the development plan, South Mills Landing would include a “mix of residential uses in close proximity to one another” as well as commercial businesses that would serve residents of both the development and South Mills, which is nearby.
Water for the project would be supplied by the South Mills Water Association, and its water system would be modeled to ensure it has “adequate water flow and pressure” to both fight fires and meet daily demand, according to the developer’s plan.
Stormwater, according to the plan, “will be modeled for a 100-year storm event and property line berms constructed as necessary ... without adversely impacting neighboring properties.”
When fully complete, the development is projected to add 301 students to the Camden County Schools.
Both the Camden Sheriff’s Office and the South Mills Volunteer Fire Department said they disapprove of South Mills Landing’s master plan.
South Mills Fire Chief Tommy Banks said the plan doesn’t address the water supply needed for fighting fires in the high-density development.
“Structure fires in high-density developments are known to spread rapidly from structure to structure and are very challenging, even for full-time, career-level fire departments in established metropolitan areas,” Banks said in comments about the plan. “While we have a great department, excellent, well-trained volunteers, and have demonstrated the ability to obtain good insurance ratings, the lack of fire flow places our department’s members and the general public at risk.”
Banks also expressed concern about flooding along Horseshoe Road.
“We are concerned that this development will create a situation similar to that which we have experienced in other parts of our jurisdiction where the fire department spent several hours daily over the course of multiple days providing assistance to isolated residents,” Banks said. “As a volunteer department, it is very difficult to provide manpower coverage to provide this level of service.”
Banks also expressed concern about the county being able to provide emergency medical services to the large development.
“The South Mills Volunteer Fire Department is asking that this development not be approved until the concerns expressed above have been addressed,” Banks said.
Camden Sheriff Kevin Jones also expressed concerns about his department’s ability to provide services to the development with its current staffing.
“Without a guarantee from the Board of Commissioners to adequately fund this office with extra personnel and equipment to meet the increased demands that this project will produce I cannot approve this action at this time,” Jones said.
In an email to Planning and Community Development Director Dan Porter, Jones explained that he opposes any new subdivisions until the county’s infrastructure is able to handle the growth.
“We are at maximum capacity in terms of the call volume we now receive with our existing personnel and the current population we serve,” Jones said. “A 581-unit subdivision could be devastating to our efficiency in providing adequate law enforcement response to our future citizens and current citizens.”
In his review of the plan, Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell expressed concern about the impact of bringing at least 300 more students into the district while crowded school conditions already exist.
“Will there be money paid to the county for support of schools like is the case with Camden Plantation?” Ferrell asked, referring to a previous subdivision whose developers gave Camden money to offset the cost of educating additional students.
“If this subdivision adds approximately 300 students (using the appropriate calculation formula) we are looking at 15-18 new classrooms across the school district and we simply do not have those spaces available,” Ferrell said.
The Camden County Schools Transportation office signed off on South Mills Landing’s plans but recommended 25 “Bus Stop School” signs and three additional shelters for bus stops. Britton Overton, director of transportation for the schools, said the development is expected to require four to six additional school buses.
David Credle, director of the South Camden County Water and Sewer District, said he has a couple of concerns.
“The elevation of this property causes flooding in heavy rain events,” he said. “With the use of gravity sewer this would mean the manholes, cleanouts and possible pump stations could also be overwhelmed with flood water.”
Credle also noted that the plans show sewage collection pipes in the middle of the road.
“Camden is not equipped to work in the road or handle the removal and replacement of roadways,” he said. “Some collection piping is shown between the back yards of homes. This isn’t acceptable because of fencing and storage buildings being installed that will block access for maintenance and repair work.”
Brian Lannon of the Albemarle Soil and Water Conservation District also noted that the area around the curve on Horseshoe Road at the proposed entrance to the subdivision currently floods.
A culvert that goes under U.S. 17 and drains stormwater from that area, needs to be large enough to handle runoff from the entire area given the high density of the units and infrastructure, Lannon said.
He also said water quality is a concern.
Lannon said a proposed drainage outlet under Main Street “looks like it will need more capacity than there is currently.”
South Mills Landing LLC has asked that the hearing on the master plan be rescheduled for Sept. 8.
Two Elizabeth City brothers are charged with trafficking fentanyl after law enforcement seized more than 55 grams of the powerful opioid from a local hotel room where they allegedly were storing and selling the drug.
Ronald Darnell Dashiell Jr. and Brandon Jamal Dashiell, both of the 200 block of Katie’s Trail, were arrested Friday following a joint operation involving the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office, the Elizabeth City Police Department, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten said in a press release Tuesday.
Wooten said an investigation of the Dashiells began after a local citizen complained that someone was using an Elizabeth City hotel room to store and sell fentanyl.
Though it can be sold in prescription form, fentanyl can also be used illegally, Wooten said. While typically injected or snorted like heroin, fentanyl can be “50 to 100 times more potent,” which can lead to overdose and even death, he said.
Following an investigation involving all four agencies, Pasquotank deputies stopped a vehicle operated by Ronald Dashiell on Friday and took him into custody, Wooten said. City police officers, executing a search warrant, took Brandon Dashiell into custody following a search of the hotel room.
Wooten said deputies seized $6,000 in cash from the vehicle and police seized most of the 55 grams of fentanyl from the hotel room. The fentanyl had a street value of approximately $6,000, he said.
Ronald Dashiell, 31, is charged with one count of felony trafficking Schedule II of a controlled substance, one count of felony maintaining a dwelling for the sale or possession of a controlled substance and one count of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
Brandon Dashiell, 26, is charged with one felony count of possession with intent to sell or deliver Schedule II of a controlled substance.
A Pasquotank magistrate set Ronald Dashiell’s secured bond at $22,000 and Brandon Dashiell’s secured bond at $10,000. Both men were transported to Albemarle District Jail where they later were released on bond.
According to Wooten’s release, the FBI has joined the investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will likely issue either a federal complaint or indictment against both Dashiells and “others conspiring with them.”
Both Dashiells have previous arrest records, Wooten said.
At least two area school districts will be prepared to offer an all-virtual education option to students if that’s what their families want.
The Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools is planning for both the hybrid option Gov. Roy Cooper has called for, according to ECPPS Superintendent Catherine Edmonds.
And the Currituck County Schools is also planning both approaches.
All school districts in North Carolina have been preparing for one of three COVID-19-influenced education options for when students return to school next month.
On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced what that option will be: a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Cooper also said districts could opt for an all-remote learning plan instead of in-person classes.
ECPPS is planning for a bit of both in-person classes and remote learning based on the needs of individual students and families, Edmonds said.
Currituck is taking a similar approach.
“District staff will plan for face-to-face learning opportunities blended with some virtual instructional activities,” Renee Dowdy, Currituck’s assistant superintendent for secondary education, said in an email. “District staff will also continue to prepare an option for students/families to consider in which 100 percent of instruction will be delivered remotely.”
Even before hearing the governor’s announcement Tuesday, ECPPS already had decided it would make a virtual learning opportunity available for all students if their family preferred that.
Edmonds said the district surveyed families to find out which option they prefer and what their transportation needs are. A little more than 2,000 responses have been received thus far for the district’s 5,100 students. Edmonds said the district would like to hear from every family with a child in the district.
The survey responses so far have indicated that 38.1% prefer the all-remote option, 33.6% like an option in which school buildings would be open at full capacity (which Cooper now has taken off the table) and 28.1% prefer the hybrid option known as Option B, which the governor is implementing. The governor’s plan also allows districts to choose a remote-only option.
Edmonds noted the percentages reflect only the responses of those families that have taken the survey.
“We really need to hear from everyone,” she said.
Edmonds said families can find a link to the survey on the school district’s website.
“No plan will be a perfect plan but we are working to have the best option available for every family,” she said.
The ECPPS transportation survey has found 34.8% of families so far needing transportation for students to school and 33.6% needing transportation for them back home.
Edmonds said principals will be going into classrooms beginning this week to take measurements and begin figuring out how to make social distancing work at the schools. One of the requirements under the hybrid plan Cooper proposed requires schools to keep students six feet apart. Also, all school staff, teachers and students will be required to wear a mask.
Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell said Camden also has sought input from families as it plans for the new school year.
“We have put together a team that is led by our middle school principal, Mr. (Levar) Mizelle,” Ferrell said. “We have a school nurse, teachers, administrators, transportation, cafeteria services, and a local doctor is coming in to advise us this week. We have surveyed families.”
Ferrell said the team plans to finalize options this week to present to the Camden Board of Education next week.
Dowdy urged Currituck families to follow the district’s website and social media for up-to-date information.
“We know there are still many questions that need to be answered,” Dowdy said. “District staff are working tirelessly to create plans that promote high quality instruction while maintaining staff and student safety.”