Choice should guide school reopening

05 N2008P69004CIf you are among the minority of North Carolinians who haven’t supported the expansion of parental choice in education over the past two decades — in the form of charter schools, open enrollment among district schools and aid to private-school students who have special needs or modest household incomes — the challenge of COVID-19 presents you with an excellent opportunity to reconsider your position.

School choice isn’t some scary conspiracy or ideological scheme. It is a basic tool for addressing a practical reality: people are different. One size does not fit all.

Gov. Roy Cooper and his aides are grappling with this reality right now. Faced with the critically important question of how to reopen North Carolina schools for the fall semester, the administration initially sketched out three options.

Plan A would have all students return to school with “minimal social distancing,” which, in reality, would involve extensive daily precautions that will consume lots of time and resources. Plan B would limit schools to 50% capacity, in effect requiring students to stay at home for at least half the semester through some kind of alternating-day or alternating-week schedule. Plan C would keep schools closed for the semester.

Originally, Cooper set July 1 as the date he would announce which option would be the statewide default. School districts were to be allowed to adopt a more-restrictive plan but not a less-restrictive one. When July 1 arrived, however, the governor flinched. No announcement came.

For many students, parents, educators and employers trying to make plans for August and beyond, Cooper’s delay was infuriating. But it was also unsurprising. North Carolinians have varying needs, perspectives and tolerance for risk. We simply don’t agree on school reopening. According to a recent Elon University poll, about a third of North Carolinians agree with Plan A, just over a third with Plan B, and just under a third with Plan C. The views of parents are distributed similarly.

Whatever the statewide policy may be, a significant share of the population will disagree with it — passionately in many cases. That is precisely why there should be no statewide policy, at least not in the way state politicians have been thinking about it up to now.

Based on their comments, it is clear that Cooper and his aides have read the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance on school reopening. They know that, according to the best-available evidence, children face an extremely low risk of suffering serious symptoms from a COVID-19 infection and are very unlikely to transmit the virus to teachers, parents or other adults.

They also know that if schools do not reopen on a normal schedule, hundreds of thousands of North Carolina children will suffer. Many will fall further behind academically. Some will suffer harm to their physical and mental health. Moreover, many of their parents will be unable to care for them at home without losing income or even their jobs. The state’s economic recovery will stall. And the costs will be disproportionately borne by disadvantaged North Carolinians.

As you can tell, I remain firmly convinced that the state’s schools would be reopened under a light version of Plan A. But I also know, as do Cooper and his team, that many North Carolinians will disagree. Some parents will refuse to send their children back. They will insist on some other solution. And they have every right to do so.

Many districts are already planning to offer virtual academies with more-robust offerings than the meager fare the schools came up with during the spring shutdown. Private associations and vendors are doing the same, in response to record interest in homeschooling. Some private schools have long offered hybrid schedules and would welcome new enrollees. The state should expand opportunity scholarships, at least temporarily, to ensure greater access to that option.

I may not agree with the preferences of the more risk-averse parents, but I support their right to choose the publicly funded option they think best for their children. I always have.

Visualize whirled peas

04 N1109P39002CWho among us, as a child, was not forced to eat something disgusting because children were starving in China? Return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when you could not leave the table until you cleaned your plate. My sainted mother believed that unless I cleaned my plate, a child in China would starve. After a recent Zoom meeting with my extended family, a common food-related thread emerged when we discussed the merits of okra. My childhood agonies at the dinner table were duplicated in the homes of my relatives. The clean-your-plate theory originated with my grandmother, Araminta, who passed it on to her three daughters, who then passed it on to my brother, my cousins and poor old pitiful me.

My mother had many fine qualities, but at supper time, she was the Dictator of the Dinner Table. Remember the opening of the “Lone Ranger” TV show? “A fiery plate of okra placed on my dish with the speed of light, and a hearty ‘You can’t leave the table until you clean your plate!’” I spent untold hours alone at the dinner table until I had cleaned my plate of some offending food item. On many nights, I was the Lone Ranger at the table while the other members of the family moved on. I would sit there and stare at a cold turnip, a pile of misshapen okra or sometimes even a cold piece of beef liver. Life would go on all about me as I sat staring at some misbegotten food item mocking me from my plate. Instead of being outside, I was chained to a plate of some hideous food. As Colonel Kurtz said in “Apocalypse Now”: “The horror. The horror.”

On mercifully rare occasions, she would deliver liver from the kitchen. She didn’t like liver. My father didn’t like liver. My brother didn’t like liver. I didn’t like liver. Even my dog didn’t like liver. When your dog refuses food, it is bigly sad. Mother served liver because “It is good for you.” Her father once told me that when he was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, class of 1912, he would take one class a semester that he didn’t like because the discipline of taking that class “was good for him.” This character trait, while commendable in the abstract, was soul-crushing in practice when the parsnips hit the plate.

Okra had a special place in my childhood. There is nothing like the slime of boiled okra to bring back precious memories, how they linger. It is a scientific fact that okra is the only vegetable with mucous. You don’t have to chew it. It will just slither down your throat like water running downhill.

In the pantheon of regrettable childhood meals, the most common offender was my nemesis — green peas. We had green peas frequently. I hated them. Tiny little balloons of green glop would stare at me from my plate. I tried all the kid tricks with them: spreading them around my plate so it looked like I had eaten some; feeding them to the dog; and stuffing them into a napkin in my pocket to be given a stealthy burial at sea in the toilet. She was on to all my tricks. I couldn’t fool her. Like the time Thomas Jefferson dined alone, I would be left at the table in lofty miserable splendor — just me and a pile of green peas daring me to eat them or spend the rest of my childhood staring at them. Upon chewing a green pea, the nasty bilious contents of the pea explode, triggering a gag reflex in normal human beings. It’s science. Green peas are the devil’s vegetable.

The only thing worse than hot green peas is cold green peas. I was my own worst enemy as I would sit there watching the peas attain room temperature. I knew the peas would be worse cold, but I could not force myself to eat them while they were hot. I hoped lightning would strike me before I had to consume the peas. In the battle of the dinner table, I was always outmatched by my mother. If she had been at the Alamo, Gen. Santa Anna would have been defeated and made to eat green peas and liver before retreating to Mexico.

One of the most conflicted things I confronted at the dinner was two-thirds wonderful and one-third abysmal. I refer to something called Rosette. Homemade mashed potatoes were carefully arranged in a circle on a Russel Wright serving dish. The potatoes were artistically sprinkled with shredded cheddar cheese. Yum. If it stopped right there, it would have been my favorite food. But no. Into the hollow center of the circle of mashed potatoes came little green men. Green peas would invade the potatoes’ doughnut hole, turning a celestial food combination into a concoction from hell. The secretions from the green peas would contaminate the mashed potatoes, turning the event horizon between the peas and potatoes green. When servings were scooped, the spoon would upset the equilibrium of the peas and potatoes, allowing aggressive green peas to hide under mashed potatoes. Biting into mashed potatoes only to discover a green pea unexpectedly detonating is enough to require years of psychiatric therapy.

All mother was saying was give peas a chance. However, peas are not good for children or other living things. As Forrest Gump once said, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”


Citizen Cares Project: Fayetteville backing the blue

02 01 image013Fayetteville, North Carolina, a once-proud, up and coming, developing urban community, is beginning to resemble a war-torn country. Dirty, trash-littered streets, boarded up storefronts, graffiti-laden walls, shanty tents and makeshift nomad-occupied encampments surround the Market House, a historic building and monument that means so many things to so many people.

Hopefully, by the time you read this editorial, the mayor and city council will have put their collective intelligence, authority and sensibilities to good use to clean up the blight around the Market House. It is creating a blemish on our community and an ugly public safety hazard on city-owned property.

02 02 image014However, as in life, the direst of situations often bring out the best in humanity. Last Thursday evening, hundreds of Fayetteville and Cumberland County residents rallied together in front of the Cumberland County Law Enforcement Center downtown to “Back the Blue” in a show of unity and appreciation for the rank-and-file Fayetteville law enforcement officers serving on the Fayetteville Police Force. The Citizen Cares Project was an impromptu citywide tour de force response to the negative narratives being touted about law enforcement and being amplified in Fayetteville and all across the nation. The CCP event was 100% Americana at its best. Hundreds of participants waving flags, cheering, laughing, praying, singing patriot songs and pledging allegiance to our flag demonstrated how much Fayetteville citizens appreciate and support their local police officers and how much they love their community and their country.

The CCP event was amazing! The outpouring of support was awe-inspiring. In a matter of weeks, a handful of 02 03 image015volunteers rallied the Fayetteville community to raise more than $35,000 to provide gift packages to the 420 police officers who have dedicated their lives to the protection and service of Fayetteville citizens. Each gift pack was a token of appreciation that contained a $60 restaurant dine-out card for them and their family, a personal handwritten note of gratitude and encouragement from a local resident, a prayer for safety and protection, and an assortment of items intended to make their jobs and lives more enjoyable.

The CCP led a peaceful march to personally deliver these gifts to the Fayetteville Police Department amid Black Lives Matters protesters.
Police officers and members of the Full Throttle/Full Mag Motorcycle Club, known for their community service and support of law enforcement and first responders, escorted the marchers and the vehicles transporting the gift packets to their final destination at the Fayetteville Police headquarters on Hay Street. Here, the packages were delivered to the Fayetteville Police Foundation for distribution.

CCP participants remained calm, focused and dignified in the face of the protesters’ shouts and chants.

In a recent local survey, crime and public safety were two of the biggest concerns of Fayetteville residents. The events taking place in our city since May 30 lend credence to those fears. Defund police? Really? The whole world saw how that model worked out in the CHOP zone in Seattle, Washington.

Thank you to all the men and women of Fayetteville’s law enforcement community and to all those who organized and participated in the CCP. This action reflects the spirit of boundless determination and renewed enthusiasm that assures us Fayetteville will remain a city known for its hospitality, diversity, tolerance, dignity, history and heroes. The CCP rally participants represented the entire scope of this community: men, women, children and grandparents; Black white, Hispanic and Asian residents; all religions; and active duty and retired military.

A special thank you to our local Fayetteville police officers and all the volunteers and participants that made the CCP a success.

Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.


Supporting Fort Bragg: A letter from Washington, D.C.

03 N1911P30004CFriends,

As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I understand the strength of our servicemembers depends on not only the training and resources we provide them, but also the support we provide to their families.

Our warfighters shouldn’t have to worry about whether their next duty station can support the medical needs of their family or whether they will be able to afford safe, reliable childcare.

That is why I am proud to have cosponsored the military family readiness legislation recently included in the National Defense Authorization Act that Congress will vote on later this month.

This legislation directly addresses many of the concerns I’ve heard from Fort Bragg families, including reforms to strengthen the Exceptional Family Member Program which provides access to health care and special needs education, in addition to behavioral health, opioid abuse and child care initiatives.

I have also remained in close contact with Fort Bragg leadership on other top priorities, including key infrastructure projects that will have a direct and immediate impact on military readiness. While Congress has consistently recognized the importance of funding the Special Operations forces at Fort Bragg, this has often come at the expense of conventional forces at the base. Most notably, this includes the 82nd Airborne Division also known as our nation’s Immediate Response Force (IRF).

That is why in March, I testified before the Subcommittee on Military Construction to request they fund priorities to support the mission of the 82nd Airborne, as well as Pope Army Airfield.

As a result, last week the subcommittee released their report, which included both of the provisions I asked for. The first provision urges the Army to prioritize facilities that will support the global mission of the IRF. The second provision urges the Army National Guard (ARNG) to support readiness of ARNG aviation units as they prepare to gain new aircraft platforms. This includes emergency support infrastructure around the airfield to deal with possible fires or mishaps during a deployment. The inclusion of these provisions will bring meaningful investments into our forces and infrastructure at Fort Bragg and Pope Army Airfield.

While I continue to fight for these resources for our community, I am also continuing my commitment to supporting our servicemembers.
Last week, I was proud to have my proposal to increase military hazardous duty pay in this year’s national defense bill pass the House Armed Services Committee unanimously. This proposal would increase the monthly pay awarded to some personnel stationed in certain locations and those who work under hazardous conditions as part of their military duties. This increase is a step in the right direction to show our servicemembers who deploy in harm’s way that we support them as they fight in defense of this nation and our allies while separated from their friends and family.

As Fort Bragg’s Congressman, I’m constantly reminded of the sacrifices of so many of our servicemembers, especially those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. July 12 marks the 158th anniversary of the creation of the Medal of Honor. Since it was established by Congress and enacted by President Abraham Lincoln, more than 3,500 brave Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor, including the latest recipient, Fort Bragg’s own Master Sgt. Matthew Williams. I’m honored to represent so many servicemembers, military families and veterans who have all sacrificed for our country. Today and every day, let’s honor their courage and service.


Shift happens

09 jesse dyer UtiKgdpOmEI unsplashWithout a doubt, the year 2020 has been one to remember. Although things developed so rapidly on so many simultaneous fronts, it's been an easy year to forget, as well. How many things have you adapted so far? Birthdays, holidays, school and vacation — all of us have had to adapt to a continually shifting environment as we try our best to maintain forward momentum, haven't we?

Personally, I've learned a lot about resilience. This year has been a journey into what it looks like to walk away from any sense of status quo and learn to do the things you've always known in a way they've never been done before. Like you and everyone else, there was no choice but to slow down, regroup and redefine the path — and in many cases, even the goal itself.

As we've challenged ourselves to rethink everything from work to church to birthday parties, this tired old adage has become more relevant each day: "Change is inevitable. Learning from change is optional." As we continue to learn and grow, we easily offer more challenges to another tired mantra: "We have always done it that way."

With change being the order of the day, the real question now is where to look for constants in our life. Where is your foundation and what is the source of stability as everything around you is shifting?

As a former military family, we've long since learned the value of a solid home life. One where meals together at the table, siblings attending each others' dance recitals, ball games and school plays are not in question. We moved around the world and across the country, but we were always a family, and family mattered. As my children now have families of their own, I see that playing out in their homes, too.

Another constant for many is a strong spiritual life. One where accountability to God and others comes in high on the list. For those who ascribe to Christianity, its namesake himself taught that those commandments (out of the 10) were the greatest, "... to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as you do yourself."
In all honesty, when we observe those two, most of the rest of life falls into place pretty nicely. It's when we take those commandments into our workplace, into our families and into our social life to heart that we find ourselves more adaptable to changes that come our way — whether they find us in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis or civil unrest.

So, whatever is shaking in your world today, I hope your foundation is firm. If not, the changes going on around us provide the perfect environment for a personal shift toward more solid ground.

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