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‘The only disaster is the pandemic itself’ — says State Board of Education Chair

On Wednesday, December 2, 2020, the State Board of Education held a virtual meeting. State Board Chair Eric Davis opened the meeting with several remarks about the impact of the pandemic on our schools, the shooting at a middle school in Hendersonville on Nov. 24, and two educators who recently contracted COVID-19 and died.

You can listen to the speech or read the transcript below.

Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

“Before we begin our work today, I’d like to express my hope that during last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, each one of you had an opportunity to rest, recharge, and reflect upon the many things we all have to be grateful for. One of the many things that I’m so grateful for is our shared commitment as a Board, and as a statewide education team, to the importance of education equity for every child and to the education of the whole child and every student, our adopted guiding principles. Maintaining our focus on these principles enables us to meet the academic and non-academic needs of our students, particularly in these extraordinary times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy and nearly every aspect of our lives, including the education of our children. Students spending many hours alone or tied to a computer screen contribute to anxiety, loneliness, despair, and have had a negative effect on many of their academic performance. With COVID separating our students from their classmates and caring adults in our schools, there’s an even greater need to ensure students feel safe and have the supports needed, whether attending in person or through remote instruction.

Last week, we experienced a shooting in one of our schools in Hendersonville. Thankfully there were no fatalities. But that is an indication of the stress our students are feeling. In addressing the needs of the whole child, it is critical when ensuring that students feel protected and that schools are truly safe for our students to attend.

Only since our last meeting, we tragically lost two employees in our public schools due to COVID-19. One a middle school teacher in Cumberland County Public Schools and the other an art teacher in a public charter school in Cumberland County. Our hearts are broken for their families and students of these wonderful educators as we extend our condolences to their families and their school communities.

On the whole, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our students. Some have chosen to characterize our education system as “broken” or “as a disaster.” I completely disagree with this characterization. The only disaster is the pandemic itself. In fact, perseverance, resolve, and acts of kindness of our students and their families throughout this ordeal are shining examples of the best of the spirit of North Carolina.

Moreover, the selfless dedication, creativity, and courage our teachers, teacher assistants, counselors, child nutrition and custodial staff, bus drivers, principals, superintendents, and many others across our state, including the DPI staff, since March 14, 2020 is truly remarkable. And every North Carolinian, whether we have a child in a public school or not, owes a huge debt to our educators. They have earned our respect, our admiration, and our gratitude. And it will take every one of our educators and all of our support over many years to provide the education recovery that our students need to overcome this pandemic.

It will take our time, our talents, our dedication, and our resources in greater quantities and organized in a more efficient and effective manner for many years to turn this challenge into our finest hour. Working with our superintendent-elect, DPI, and educators and students across our state, we will transform our education system to recover from this pandemic, to emerge stronger, to better serve all of North Carolina’s students for decades to come. Our children’s future and our future as a state depends upon our resolve to let nothing stand in the way our children’s education.

So as we prepare for the winter break holidays, please be mindful of ensuring that we follow the three W’s: wearing a mask, washing our hands, and waiting six feet apart in order to beat this virus down. Short of the vaccine, these are the most effective measures to protect ourselves, to care for our neighbors, and to reopen our schools.”

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.