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Guilford County Schools students, parents rally for sports despite heat

GREENSBORO On a morning when most people would have preferred to stay inside, Guilford County students, parents and coaches came out Wednesday to show their support for athletics and other extracurricular activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixty to 70 people endured temperatures approaching 90 degrees outside Guilford County Schools’ central office to make their voices heard at a rally organized by Grimsley High senior Sincere Burnette with the support of school parents.

The group expressed concern about the school system’s decisions to push back the start of workouts for fall spots and marching band practice, with the latest postponement delaying activities until at least Aug. 3. The N.C. High School Athletic Association has delayed the official start of fall workouts until Sept. 1.

Among the high schools represented were people wearing colors and logos from Dudley, Eastern Guilford, Grimsley, Northern Guilford, Page, Ragsdale, Southeast Guilford, Southwest Guilford and Western Guilford.

Bruce Baker, whose two sons are Grimsley athletes, said his family “drove back from the beach last night so we could be here.” Baker says parents are worried about the mental health of their students as much as the physical.

“My older son, Max, is an offensive lineman, and it’s his senior year of eligibility,” Baker said. “His morale is down. They want to get out there. ... It’s not everything to him, but he enjoys going out there. He enjoys the camaraderie with his friends, the fellowship, the competition.”

Doug Robertson, Page’s football coach, said he was at the rally “to support our kids and support coaches, too. This is what we do and it’s our passion. Not having sports obviously changes our lives and our livelihoods in some cases. This being student-led, we want to support them because they support us as their coaches. I have a son (Tate) who’s a ninth-grader, so I’m also here as a parent.”

Despite the heat and humidity, the rally attracted “a bunch of different schools from across the county,” Burnette said, “and I feel like that’s a great way to get our message across. This is not just a Grimsley thing. … This was never just a Grimsley thing. … Everybody wants to play. Sports means a lot to everybody in different ways.”

Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, North Carolina has reported more than 105,000 cases of positive COVID-19 tests and 1,698 deaths related to the serious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The state on Wednesday reported a daily case increase of 2,140, among the highest single-day increases in North Carolina, and 30 new deaths.

Guilford County has recorded a total of 4,412 cases and 134 related deaths to date.

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras did not speak to the crowd, but just after 10:30 two school adiminstrators did join the students, parents and coaches in the shade of some trees along North Eugene Street. Nathan Street, the school system’s director of fine arts, and Leigh Hebbard, its athletics director, walked among the crowd, with Street telling them the school system was listening.

“We support our students and our parents,” he said. “We support them coming out and voicing their opinions. We definitely want them to know we hear them.”

One of the things Burnette wanted school officials to hear is that “playing football was how I made most of my friends.”

“That’s a connection I’ve built and I still carry on today,” said the All-Area linebacker. “I’ve known some of my teammates since I was 6 or 7. That connection for me is different. It’s a different feeling you get when you’re on the field or on the court. It’s a connection that you just don’t have with anything else.”

Chuck Doak, Southwest Guilford’s football coach, was one of the people who spoke to the crowd. He addressed the students first.

“It is amazing what you all had to go through the last six months or so,” Doak said, “and the fact that you’re standing here today in solidarity, showing what it means to be a senior in high school and what it means to you try and get this season back is outstanding!

“I know Guilford County is doing everything it can to ensure that we get back to what we do and love safely,” the Cowboys’ coachsaid. “That is our goal. We want to be safe, because we want to see all you young people succeed and have your season. We want to see you go out and enjoy the teamwork, the togetherness, the love and compassion that you all share for each other. ... We’re here for you. The coaches are here for you. Lean on us. Talk to us. Tell us what we need to do. Have a voice. Use that voice every opportunity that you get so that people hear it.”

Morgan Lowman, a volleyball player preparing for her freshman season at Northwest Guilford, used that voice simply and succinctly.

“We just want to play sports and go to school,” she said.

Greensboro City Council declares Juneteenth a holiday; workers get the day off starting in 2021

GREENSBORO — City workers will soon get an extra holiday that commemorates the true end of slavery in America.

The Greensboro City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city employees starting next year. Greensboro joins Wake County and Carrboro in declaring Juneteenth an employee holiday, according to City Manager David Parrish.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed and granted slaves their freedom over two years earlier but it took until June 19, 1865, until the last of the slaves in Texas were proclaimed free.

City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who made the motion at Tuesday’s meeting, said the holiday would allow employees to learn about and commemorate vital history.

“As with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s a day on, not a day off,” she said. “It’s a day to go learn something that you didn’t know about an African American friend.”

The change means Greensboro employees will go from 12 to 13 paid holidays.

Because June 19 is on a Saturday next year, city workers will take their holiday on Friday. Holidays that fall on a Saturday are typically observed on the Friday before, while holidays that fall on a Sunday are observed on the Monday immediately following the holiday.

This year, the city hosted a day of free, virtual Juneteenth activities in celebration and remembrance on June 19. Videos, Facebook Live events, and Zoom calls were held from 9 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Events, which were broadcast on the city’s Facebook page, included everything from cooking segments and historical perspectives to arts performances and panel discussions.

The new holiday is expected to cost the city about $25,000 in overtime pay for some workers who are required to work that day, Parrish told council members Tuesday.

The Juneteenth holiday discussion came in the final hour of a more than five-hour meeting, and a variety of council members expressed their support before voting unanimously to approve.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan complimented city staff on their work to commemorate this year’s Juneteenth virtually.

“Next year I know we’ll be able to do it in person,” she said. “And I think that this will be a nice way of allowing our employees to celebrate as well. I think we’ve got a lot to learn and this will be a good way to do it.”

Greensboro’s workers already get days off surrounding nine holidays, including extra days off for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Hightower said in proposing the motion, “we have a long way to go in eradicating discrimination and racism. I think if we celebrate Juneteenth, it gives us an opportunity to have those discussions among each other as city employees and begin to educate one another about our disparities we face.”

An interesting article in today's newspaper

For 2021, admissions to UNC system schools may be test-optional

High school students who want to attend UNC system schools might get a break on test scores.

The UNC Board of Governors are scheduled to vote this morning on a proposed one-year waiver of the requirement that applicants submit an ACT or SAT score when they apply for admission to North Carolina’s 16 public universities. The board’s educational policy committee narrowly approved the request for a waiver Wednesday.

COVID-19 has made it hard to schedule college entrance exams since March. The College Board — the SAT’s parent company — and the ACT both canceled their spring and summer test dates because of the pandemic. Kimberly van Noort, the UNC system’s chief academic officer, told committee members that it’s unclear if either test will be given in the fall because the novel coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19, is still present.

Van Noort said about 250 U.S. colleges and universities have temporarily waived testing requirements for one or more years. That number includes Duke University, which won’t require applicants to submit test scores for next year; and Davidson College and Elon University, which will both be test-optional for the next three years. The ranks of temporarily test-optional schools also include elite institutions such as Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and all eight Ivy League universities.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, which tracks college admissions testing policies, says more than half of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities have suspended test requirements for 2021 or permanently.

Admissions officers at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill told Board of Governors members Wednesday that asking their applicants to turn in test scores when other schools won’t ask for them would put their institutions at a competitive disadvantage.

They also said requiring test scores during a pandemic puts even more stress on college-bound high school seniors, many of whom will start the school year online and aren’t sure they’ll be able to sit for a test in the coming months.

Stephen Farmer, the vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the No. 1 question on the minds of applicants and their parents is whether the university will require test scores.

“Students are mostly willing to do what we ask them to do provided that they can do it,” Farmer said. “What we have right now is a situation where students literally cannot fulfill the requirement that we’re asking them to fulfill. It’s causing a lot of unconstructive worry for students and families.”

Because North Carolina requires juniors in the state’s public high schools to sit for the ACT each February, most members of the Class of 2021 will have a test score to submit, van Noort said. But about 9,000 students missed the test and haven’t made it up, and many private-school and home-school students haven’t taken either the ACT or SAT.

And, she added, the public-school students who took the ACT in the spring haven’t had a chance to take it again in hopes of improving their scores.

The committee’s vote was 3-2. Steve Long, one of the board members who voted against the plan, said both the SAT and ACT have scheduled numerous test dates throughout the fall. He also said that about half of U.S. states, like North Carolina, require high school students to take one of the two college entrance exams, which suggests that many prospective students will be able to submit test scores.

Long, who described himself as a big proponent of standardized testing, suggested that UNC system schools still require test scores but have students sign a certificate if they were unable to take a college exam because of COVID-19.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to completely waive the policy when you have much less drastic alternatives,” Long said. A signed certificate, he added, “would be much less drastic.”

If approved today, the waiver would mean that students who want to enroll at a state university as freshmen in the spring, summer or fall semesters in 2021 would not have to submit SAT or ACT scores. The testing requirement would resume in 2022.

The Board of Governors in March approved new minimum freshman admissions standards that put less emphasis on test scores. Under the UNC system’s long-standing policy, prospective students had to meet minimum standards for both grades and test scores before they could apply. The new policy requires a student to have either a 2.5 high school GPA or post a minimum test score (19 on the ACT, 1010 on the SAT) — but not both — to be considered for admission.

The UNC system’s new policy requires all first-year applicants to turn in a standardized test score when they apply. The waiver, if approved today, would remove this test-submission requirement for one year.

According to FairTest, 24 private North Carolina colleges and universities are currently test-optional. Two area schools — High Point University and Guilford College — no longer require test scores. Wake Forest University has been test-optional since 2008.