The reintroduction this week of children to full-time instruction at school has been met with reports of alleged mental, emotional, and physical abuse in Wake County Public Schools by staff and teachers.
Though the week was interrupted by inclement weather, the days students did attend brought a flurry of complaints of mistreatment of students across all grade levels in the district.
Parents at Panther Creek High School report that a teacher complained to students about having to return to the classroom and then blamed the students, calling them “selfish plague rats.”
At least one parent is confirmed to have confronted Panther Creek Principal Gregory Decker, who acknowledged the incident happened and said it was “addressed the same day.”
When asked about the Panther Creek incident, Wake County Public Schools Communications Director Lisa Luten said that “The principal is aware of the concern raised by a parent. He did not confirm any information with that parent.”
Decker did not name the teacher and parents with students who witnessed the remarks refuse to be identified and will not name the teacher for fear of further retaliation on their children.
At Middle Creek High School, a student reports that at least three teachers engaged in ‘freezing out’ students and some teachers were also using fans. Apparently, teachers had opened windows and left them open during class all day long, resulting in freezing classrooms and shivering students. At least one teacher at Middle Creek High forced all of her students to face away from her during class.
Multiple incidents of alleged abuse were reported at four elementary schools including Salem Elementary, Holly Grove Elementary, Carpenter Elementary, and Scotts Ridge Elementary.
Reports came in that some students were forced to eat breakfast and lunch sitting on the floor. In some cases, it was reported that kids were made to sit on the ground outdoors while facing a wall to eat meals while the temperature only rose into the mid-40’s.
Additional reports at Salem Elementary parents report that staff verbally harassed students sitting on the floor during breakfast to “move closer to the wall.”
“Due to the social distancing requirements, some students are taking meals on the floor. Students are not required to wear a face covering while eating,” Luten said of the situation at Salem Elementary.
In a report by the News & Observer, Luten was quoted as saying younger kids like to read and “picnic on the floor,” adding that “It’s something they’ve been using lately to say six feet apart.”
Children at Sycamore Creek Elementary were told during meal times to only remove their masks to take a bite of their food and then to put the mask back on to chew.
Another report from Forest Pines Elementary said that students were allowed to eat lunch facing only one direction and anyone found talking was removed.
Luten said she would check on the Forest Pines claim, but said that in general, guidelines require schools to arrange seating so that students are separated from one another by at least 6 feet and all students sit facing the same direction.”
She added that “Socializing occurs after the students eat and when students have their face coverings on.”
The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Service’s (NCDHHS) website has a number of school-related resources, including the Strong Schools Toolkit which states that students should be facing the same direction only if social distancing cannot be accomplished. The toolkit has undergone a number of revisions, most of which are captured by the WayBack Machine.
Dozens of students were turned away at Reedy Creek Elementary over taking temperature checks. Parents reported complaints that some thermometers were not working and the staff was barring entry to the school by refusing to do a second temperature check on a student to ensure a true reading.
Additional complaints and reports from schools in Wake County include requiring masks to be worn outdoors during recess or rigorous athletic activity and limiting access to drinking water, including barring students from using water bottles in the classroom.
The Actual Science and Data
A study conducted in North Carolina last fall on 11 districts open for nine weeks of in-person instruction concluded transmission “within-school infections were extremely rare” and reported that “no instances of child-to adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.”
“In the first 9 weeks of in-person instruction in NC schools, we found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2, as determined by contact tracing,” the study’s conclusion states.
The study was conducted by three Duke University medical groups along with the ABC Science Collaborative, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine.
The results also showed 773 community-acquired infections over a school quarter out of the more than 90,000 students and staff. Through contact tracing, local health departments found an additional 32 infections were acquired within schools.
The NC study confirms what the NCDHHS’ chief medical officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson has stated for months – that schools are “not big drivers” of cases and were not fueling the state’s case increases in December and into January.
For comparison, in New York, the worst area for infections of COVID-19 in the United States, the first batch of contract tracing data released by the state last December showed 74% of infections were linked to “household spread” and not schools.
The data included at least 46,000 identified cases over a nearly three-month period (Sept.-Nov.) and was broken down into a list of 30 trace locations. School employees were ranked number four with a rate of 1.50%, which was higher than restaurants and bars. Elementary students came in at .49%, high school students at .46% and middle school student at .19%.
Last year, NCDHHS launched phase 1 of a COVID-19 testing pilot in various schools across the state. The testing is voluntary and requires parental consent.
“Having rapid tests available in our schools is another important tool to both slow the spread of the virus and keep our children in the classroom,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen in a December press release. “With increased community spread, these tests add to the other safety protocols in place at K-12 schools to protect our students, teachers and staff.”
The program was intended to have multiple phases, however, NCDHHS has not given an update on the status of the program. Cohen has not mentioned the pilot during COVID-19 briefings since its initial introduction nor has she been asked by media during those briefings if the pilot testing results are being included in the daily testing numbers on the COVID-19 Dashboard.
Cases are plummeting nationally and in NC
In an op-ed this week published by the Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins professor Martin Makary writes that by April COVID-19 will be “mostly gone” in the U.S. and cites that Covid cases have dropped 77% in the last six weeks.
Makary also says the nosedive in cases points to the majority of the country having achieved herd immunity.
“The consistent and rapid decline in daily cases since January 8 can be explained only by natural immunity,” wrote Makary. “Behavior didn’t suddenly improve over the holidays; Americans traveled more over Christmas than they had since March.”
In North Carolina, hospitalizations and deaths have also continued to rapidly fall with a daily percent positive rate now hovering around 5.5 to 5.7%. The updated number of patients who have recovered is notoriously lagging on the NCDHHS dashboard, but as of Feb. 15, 765,456 people are presumed recovered out of the 836,650 cases reported as of Feb. 20 – that’s a 91.49% recovery rate.
It is worth noting that over the last year NCDHHS has been questioned about the true number of positive cases in the state due to the fact the state was using an elevated PCR rate of 37, instead of the 30-35 recommended by the CDC. According to the CDC, a rate above a 33 cycles threshold will make it hard to detect live virus in a sample. In other words, tests using a higher threshold are picking up dead virus, making the test a false positive.