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Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2021: The Week In Review From WFAE

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N.C. Department of Public Safety
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Flickr
Republican state Superintendent Catherine Truitt, right, calls on school districts across North Carolina to bring students back for in-person classes as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper looks on during a bipartisan press conference Feb. 2, 2021.

A Quiet — But Busy — Week

Was this past week the quiet before the storm, so to speak? Sure, there was a lot of news, but things were a bit slower, a bit calmer than perhaps we've grown accustomed to over the last year. It's OK to stop and breathe for a minute. The headlines will be coming at you full-speed soon enough: The Super Bowl is tonight, after all, and former President Trump's second impeachment trial starts Tuesday.

(We'll have live coverage of that trial on air and online, by the way.)

The news may not have been especially hectic this past week, but there was still an awful lot of it. Two intertwined stories dominated the narrative: the rush to vaccinate people against COVID-19 and the rush to make schooling seem as normal as possible as soon as possible.

More than 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccines have been given in North Carolina. More than 90,000 of them have been in Mecklenburg County, including roughly 19,000 people who have gotten their second doses. But the debate over how — and to whom and when — doses are given continues.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for example, are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. On top of that, many of them have suffered from increased social isolation. But they're near the back of the line for vaccinations in North Carolina. Some advocates want that to change.

"We know it's not going to happen overnight, but right now, people aren't even going to be allowed to make an appointment for months," said Melinda Plue with The Arc of North Carolina. "We can't wait."

When it comes to getting shots to people who are currently eligible, North Carolina has been relying in part on mass-vaccination events, like those at Bank of America Stadium and Charlotte Motor Speedway. But that's not a strategy that's working for residents who can't leave their homes due to illness or disability — or those who struggle with transportation. In absence of a statewide plan for how to help those residents, individual counties are coming up with their own strategies.

Meanwhile, there's some disparity in which eligible residents are actually getting the vaccine. Roughly 71% of the first doses in Mecklenburg County had been given to residents 65 and up as of Tuesday. But African Americans, despite making up 26% of that population in Mecklenburg, had only gotten 17% of those doses. The county is trying to address that disparity, in part, with a vaccine equity plan that also aims to build up trust in the process.

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CDC
Mecklenburg County health officials are trying to increase the number of Black residents getting COVID-19 vaccines.

The fact that such a small portion of the general population has been inoculated prompts another big question: Is it safe for students — and teachers — to go back to class? North Carolina's top political leaders say it's time. In a bipartisan push this week, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican state Superintendent Catherine Truitt called for all local districts to open in-person classes.

"This crisis has negatively impacted students' mental health and overall well-being as well as their academic preparation," Truitt said.

But it wasn't a mandate, and some teachers and parents say that districts with higher levels of COVID-19 spread should wait longer. And it's unclear how crowded schools can safely make it happen, especially while observing social-distancing best practices.

School reopening remains a political issue, too. Cooper's announcement came a day after the Republican-controlled state Senate advanced a bill that would require all North Carolina districts to offer at least some in-person classes. All five of Mecklenburg County's Democratic state senators say they oppose the bill as is, with Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed writing that first he wanted to wait until "frontline staff at our public schools are vaccinated and we can ensure the safety of students and staff through social distancing."

The debate over reopening wasn't the only big school-related story this past week. The state's Board of Education spent an hour and a half discussing new social studies standards on Wednesday. The proposed changes, which covered how to address racism, oppression and gender identity, elicited thousands of emails to board members.

One letter-writer who supported the new standards said American society, "while offering the promise of freedom and justice for all, has also been built upon systemic inequality." Another, who opposed, wrote, "We don't whitewash history, but we don't rewrite it, either."

In the end, the board OK'd the new standards in a 7-5 vote.

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@neonbrand
A proposed new North Carolina social studies curriculum strives to include voices that have traditionally been left out and to help students explore struggles against oppression and injustice.

ICYMI: MORE LOCAL NEWS

New Charlotte Investment Group Buys Second Minority-Owned Business

Bright Hope Capital bought trucking company Big Prime Hauling in Gastonia. Also in this week's BizWorthy: The GameStop stock surge led a Hornets co-owner losing big

What To Expect Now That The Door Is Open For New DACA Applicants

For three years, young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally were blocked from applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. The application process reopened in December.

Mayor Breaks Tie To Put Former Member Back On Council

More than 140 people applied for the vacancy, but it came down to two candidates: former member Greg Phipps and Jessica Davis, who works in communications and community support for the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

Sugar Creek Charter School Teacher Loses Job Over Anti-Semitic Tweet

Superintendent Cheryl Turner says the teacher initially told her he was hacked, but a few hours later Sugar Creek board chair H. Bryan Ives III issued a statement saying the tweet was real and the teacher “is no longer employed at our school.”

Pandemic Disrupted Required Cursive Writing Lessons In CMS

Last school year, 83% of school districts and 87% of charter schools met the requirements for cursive lessons, according to a report for the state Board of Education. CMS and Union County Public Schools were among the minority that did not.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: THE HIGH COST OF COVID-19

President Biden extended a hold on federal student loan repayments through September. WFAE's Gracyn Doctor looks at why Black and Latino students are disproportionately burdened with the weight of student loans.

Meanwhile, the restaurant industry has been clobbered by the coronavirus pandemic. But WFAE's Maria Ramirez Uribe reports on one Charlotte restaurant that's thriving, even though it opened just two weeks before the coronavirus shutdown in 2020.

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Maria Ramirez Uribe
After living in a van for nine months, Felix Godward left California and moved to Charlotte. He took the money he had saved and opened up a food truck.

COMMENTARY

The Belk department store chain, one of Charlotte’s corporate touchstones, is filing for bankruptcy after 133 years of operation. In his On My Mind commentary, WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson traces the history of the company, and the city the Belk family helped build.

BEST OF CHARLOTTE TALKS

If a device a few years into its life cycle breaks, it has become easier to discard it and buy something new than to have someone tinker with it. This churn is costing you money, and it’s leading to tons of e-gadgets in landfills. A “right to repair” movement is emerging to change this throw-away culture.

SOUTHBOUND
Ada Limón is one of America’s finest poets. Her book “Bright Dead Things” was a finalist for the National Book Award for poetry, and her follow-up, “The Carrying,” won the National Book Critics Circle award. She’s a native Californian but now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she has thought a lot about the hospitality of the South – especially during the pandemic. She talks about it all with Tommy Tomlinson in the latest SouthBound.