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. Here’s this week’s review:
Tony Rand, RIP: Longtime state Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, 80, died in his sleep, family members announced Friday, May 1. Rand, an affable dealmaker, was Senate majority leader and chairman of the Rules Committee during much of his tenure. He was a leader of the moderate, business-friendly Democratic juggernaut that led the General Assembly in the 1980s and again through the late 1990s and the first decade of this century. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper called Rand “the muscle who moved good ideas into great laws.” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, praised his former colleague, saying the “Senate’s tradition of collegiality — fostered by Tony — continues today and will remain part of his enduring legacy.”
K-3 reading contract: The Department of Public Instruction again will try to award a contract for the Read to Achieve reading tool. But some State Board of Education members question the impartiality of State Superintendent Mark Johnson. Earlier contract attempts were mired in controversy after Istation won the bid over Amplify. Amplify challenged the decision, arguing DPI wrongly gave the contract to Istation. As the dispute sat in administrative court, on April 24 Johnson canceled the contract, noting schools wouldn’t offer in-person instruction the rest of the school year. DPI will give the bidding process another shot for the 2020-21 school year. During an April 30 SBE meeting, Vice Chairman Alan Duncan questioned how impartial DPI can be after Johnson has publicly criticized Amplify. The state Department of Information Technology will work closely with DPI to ensure a fair and transparent process, Johnson said.
School task force: Johnson announced a new task force to help chart the reopening of K-12 public schools, post-COVID-19. The Schools Reopening Task Force will be bipartisan and include a variety of education groups. SRTF will focus on three areas: improving educational opportunities, addressing learning gaps, and complying with social distancing guidelines. “DPI is convening this task force in an effort to efficiently address the challenges that lay ahead when we reopen schools and to put us back on a proactive path that, once again, will allow North Carolina students their best opportunities to pursue their own pathways to success,” Johnson said in a news release.
ReopenNC division: Kristen Cochran, a co-founder of the ReOpenNC grassroots movement, has split from the group. In a Facebook post, Cochran took issue with the direction Ashley Smith, another co-founder, has taken the group. Smith acted on her own and nearly incited a riot during the April 28 ReOpenNC protest, Cochran said. Smith was arrested during the protest on charges of violating police orders after she stepped onto a sidewalk in front of the governor’s Executive Mansion. Another ReopenNC member was charged with damaging a gate on the mansion grounds — the member says the gate already was damaged. “I have said from the beginning, we are a peaceful action group and I have carried myself that way and protected our group with every fiber of my being,” Cochran said in her post.
University lawsuit: Deena Dieckhaus, a student at East Carolina University, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the University of North Carolina system. The lawsuit claims that closing the UNC System campuses due to COVID-19 and moving to online learning deprived students of all the benefits they paid for with tuition and fees. While closing campuses was the right decision, Dieckhaus said, the UNC system should refund students for ending in-person instruction and denying use of campus facilities. Students at UNC campuses in Wilmington, Asheville and Charlotte have filed similar lawsuits, WRAL reported.
Sick as a dog: Winston the pug has tested positive for COVID-19. A family in Chapel Hill owns Winston. They took part in a Duke University study and several members of the family tested positive. Researchers have been testing pets to see how the virus spreads through households, Chris Woods, principal investigator of the study, told CNN. “His (Winston’s) amount of virus that we detected was very low, suggesting he wouldn’t be a likely mechanism or vector of transmission of virus to either other animals or to, to humans in these households,” Woods said. A different test is used for animals and people. Winston may be the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19.