by Lindsay Marchello

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed.

Standardized testing: Little Timmy still has to attend school for standardized tests, regardless of whether he’s enrolled in a virtual school. The state and federal government waived testing requirements for the 2020 spring semester because of COVID-19. No such waiver has been issued for the start of the 2020-21 school year. As it stands, schools will have to administer End-of-Course and End-of-Grade tests during the 2020 fall semester. Students can’t take these tests remotely, even if their school district has opted for full-time remote learning. The Department of Public Instruction, in a board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 5, provided the State Board of Education a few ways to do testing. One option sees students taking the standardized tests when they return physically to school. Another option has local school districts setting up state-sanctioned testing locations. Lastly, education officials could petition the General Assembly to expand the window for when standardized tests must be taken or request another testing waiver. The Department of Public Instruction proposes allowing schools to administer the spring exams at the start of the fall semester. The tests would only be for parents and teachers to see where students are at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Tammy Howard, director of accountability services at DPI, told board members. The state education board accepted the recommendations during the meeting Thursday, Aug. 6.

Carowinds closed: The annual family vacation to Carowinds will have to be postponed. The amusement park, which sits on the North Carolina-South Carolina border, will stay closed for the rest of the year. Safety is a top priority, Pat Jones, vice president and general manager of Carowinds, said in a news release. “The continued uncertainty in our region surrounding COVID-19 as well as the diminishing number of calendar days left in the 2020 operating season, has brought us to the difficult decision to keep the park closed for the rest of the year,” Jones said. The park will continue to work with health officials to make sure the park can safely reopen in 2021, Jones said. 

Save our Stages Act: Sing a sad song, Merle Haggard. COVID-19 is threatening the future of music venues. Some lawmakers in Congress want to save the stages. The Save our Stages Act is a bipartisan effort to support independent music venues struggling to survive because of the pandemic. Under the bill, independent music venues would be eligible for short-term grants to help keep the businesses alive until they’re able to reopen again. Supporters include Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; and both North Carolina senators, Republicans Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. “The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that has placed many of these venues in significant jeopardy for the foreseeable future, and Congress must work to give them support,” Tillis said in a news release.

Health alert: Orange County health officials want the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to go completely online for the first five weeks of school. Quintana Stewart, Orange County health director, sent a letter on July 29 to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, recommending virtual classes and limited on-campus housing. Despite the steps Orange County has taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, Stewart fears they won’t be enough once students return to campus. UNC-Chapel Hill could become a COVID-19 hotspot, Stewart wrote. The university has taken steps to align with the health department’s concerns and recommendations, Guskiewicz said in an Wednesday, Aug. 5, news release.

Convictions upheld: A federal judge Tuesday, Aug. 4, upheld the corruption convictions against Durham billionaire Greg Lindberg and John Gray, a political consultant. U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn denied the defendants’ request for an acquittal and a new trial. A jury found Lindberg and Gray guilty in March of attempting to bribe N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Lindberg’s legal team argued the jury wasn’t properly instructed on the law and requested an acquittal and a new trial. Cogburn disagreed in his ruling and said the jury properly considered the relevant evidence. As part of the probe, former N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. On Twitter, The Charlotte Observer‘s Jim Morrill said sentencing for all three was scheduled for Aug. 19. 

NCAE letter: A couple of Republican state senators are putting pressure on the liberal N.C. Association of Educators to help low-income, at-risk students after the organization lobbied to close schools for in-person instruction. Wake County Public Schools plans to start the 2020-21 school year with full-time remote learning. A group of Wake County organizations have set up learning centers with internet access and trained staff to educate K-6 students, WRAL reported. The learning centers will charge at least $24 a day. Sens. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, sent a letter to Tamika Walker Kelly, NCAE president, asking for the organization to donate part of their dues to help low-income students attend the learning centers. “Your organization has led the fight to keep schools closed. The success of your school closure push means children do not have equal access to education,” the letter reads.

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