Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. May 25, 2022.

Editorial: North Carolina gets its own ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, and yes, it’s awful

You would think, after the House Bill 2 backlash that occurred in 2016, North Carolina Republicans might think twice before pouring gasoline on the flames of divisive social issues.

Obviously not.

Republican lawmakers jumped headfirst into the culture war again Tuesday, attempting to police public education with what they call a “parents’ bill of rights.” The legislation, which was introduced Tuesday, bears a remarkable resemblance to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill recently passed in Florida. That bill sparked nationwide criticism, as well as retaliation from major companies like Disney. In the months since, more than a dozen states have proposed similar legislation.

The bill’s sponsors were quick to tell everyone that their version is not as bad as the Florida bill. But it is almost as bad, and like the Florida law, North Carolina’s version does little else but hurt students.

The bill proposed by North Carolina Republicans would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from being included in the curriculum in kindergarten through third grade.

It also would likely result in the forced outing of LGBTQ students by requiring parents to be notified if a student chooses to change their pronouns, makes use of school counseling services or even just discusses matters related to their “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” with a teacher or counselor.

And it would allow parents to sue the school if they feel their parental rights have been violated — and schools would have to pay the court costs. Other “parental rights” enumerated in the bill include the right to object to textbooks and supplementary materials, the right to see which books their child checked out from the school library and more.

Republicans don’t like that it’s being framed as another example of “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. At a press conference Tuesday, Senate leader Phil Berger insisted “there is no attempt to squelch folks from talking about things.” Students would still be allowed to ask questions about sexuality and gender identity, and teachers would be allowed to answer them. However, teachers would be expected to tell parents if that happens.

“If my child asked a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” Berger said. “And I think it would be incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries that a child is making.”

But it’s hard to see how their bill wouldn’t have the same effect. If a teacher has to report that a student asked about something, that does, in its own way, limit discussion. Students who know that such conversations will be reported to parents may feel that silence is the better option.

And if teachers aren’t sure where “discussion” ends and “instruction” begins — it would appear, for example, that a kindergarten teacher couldn’t read students a story where the character happens to have two moms or two dads — then they will stay away from materials that even indirectly acknowledge homosexuality or gender identity.

The result is that they won’t say gay. Or transgender. Instead of education, the bill engages in erasure.

For LGBTQ students, especially those who are terrified of coming out to their families, school can be a safe space. LGBTQ youth are already at increased risk of suicide, and more often than not, being able to confide in that one teacher or that one counselor can be life-saving. This bill would strip them of that. How can they trust any adult at school, knowing that nothing they say can be kept in confidence?

Most of all, this bill slaps a stigma on the idea of being gay or trans. It encourages silence and the diminishing of LGBTQ identity, as if the mere thought of being gay or transgender is shameful or wrong. That’s a terrible message to be sending to kids, and it doesn’t make public schools better. It makes them dangerous.

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Greensboro News and Record. May 19, 2022.

Editorial: A small vote no, but a bigger vote yes

According to Greek mythology, a poor soul named Sisyphus was sentenced by a vengeful Zeus to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down each time it neared the top, over and over, into eternity.

According to Charles Schulz, a poor soul named Charlie Brown was invited to kick a football held by Lucy, only to have her yank it away at the last moment, over and over.

And according to this week’s election results, Guilford County remains stuck in its own loop of futility.

Civic boosters keeping pushing a proposed quarter-cent sales tax for schools, and voters keep shoving it back down the hill.

Most recently it happened on Tuesday, when primary voters said no (yet again) to a sales tax increase that would have benefited desperately needed school maintenance, renovation and construction.

If you’re keeping count, that’s six whiffs in a row at the ballot box.

Never mind that other counties have passed similar taxes, including Forsyth, Davidson and Rockingham.

Never mind that it came with a pledge from the county commissioners that they would cut property taxes if the sales tax had passed.

And never mind that the projected revenue raised would have been $20 million a year.

No matter how you ask or what enticements you attach … and no matter how noble the cause … most people in Guilford County simply do not like sales tax increases.

So just as before, they said a firm NO at the polls, 55%-45%, according to complete but unofficial results.

The good news is that voters also said yes to a much bigger ask on the same ballot.

For the second time in two years they approved school construction bonds, by an even greater margin than they turned down the sales tax.

Sixty-one percent of the voters said yes to $1.7 billion in bonds.

This means overdue work can proceed in fixing and in some cases replacing neglected and, in too many cases, deteriorating school buildings.

If you had to win one or the other, this clearly is the way you’d want the chips to fall.

It comes at a time of renewed optimism and economic momentum in Guilford County.

And it addresses a need that simply couldn’t wait any longer.

Would it have been ideal to have both? Absolutely.

The sales tax would have fit hand in glove into efforts to make up for lost time in funding for our schools.

But in this case, one out of two isn’t bad.

The voters gave a solid yes to the question that mattered the most.

As Guilford County commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston said Wednesday at a news conference: “Go forward. Bring the plans. Get the architects. Get the general contractors. Get the bulldozers. Let’s start building our schools the way they should be for our children.”

Hear, hear! And amen.

Some other lessons we learned from voters on Tuesday:

The turnout

Relatively speaking, voter turnout was strong throughout the state.

Statewide, 19.66% of registered voters went to the polls, the highest percentage for a midterm election in 20 years and the second-highest since 1990. (The highest was 21.21% in 2002.)

Guilford County beat the statewide average, reaching 20.35%.

But that’s still only 75,867 out of 372,826 registered voters.

For all the (justified) concerns about voter suppression, let’s not suppress our own voices by staying at home.

We can and should do better.

The mayoral race

Sitting Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan will face sitting City Council member Justin Outling in what should be a very competitive general election on July 26.

In a field of four candidates, Vaughan surged to 45% of the vote in the primary to Outling’s 35%.

Vaughan did especially well among the city’s Black voters, a sign of relationships she has built over three terms as mayor. Her visibility in the Black community has been strong and consistent over the years.

The question is whom the nearly 20% of voters who supported the candidates who failed to make the cut, Mark Cummings and Eric Robert, will support in July.

However it plays out, it’s always healthy to have a spirited mayoral race between two very good candidates.

Here’s hoping the voters will show, even at the height of vacation season.

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Winston Salem-Journal. May 24, 2022.

Editorial: Historic’ solar homes are increasingly popular

For most of us, the term “historic neighborhood” probably conjures visions of steep, gabled roofs, turrets, spacious front porches and shutters that actually open and close.

Not rooftop solar panels.

But as the need for, and the popularity of, solar energy increases, that appears to be changing.

Consider the solar panels atop the Queen Ann-style house, built in 1901 in Winston-Salem’s historic West End neighborhood, that Matt Giegengack and his wife, Claire Calvin, added as only one among several steps their family has taken toward more sustainable lifestyles. (They also raise chickens, grow their own vegetables and compost in their backyard, not to mention Matt’s purchase of a Tesla electric vehicle and his installation of a home charging station.)

Or similar panels on a 19th-century Greensboro home owned by Tim Lindeman and his wife Nancy Walker.

As John Deem reported recently in the Journal, there’s a growing number of historic homes in the Triad that have solar panels on their roofs.

In fact, as Deem also reported earlier this month, 177 Triad residents planned to go solar in April, according to N.C. Utilities Commission documents.

You wouldn’t exactly call it a green tsunami. But it could be the beginning of a hopeful trend.

By the end of 2021, 512 Winston-Salem residents had installed solar panels in their homes; 535 in Greensboro.

The advent of the panels in historic neighborhoods is positive proof that the panels can coexist with historic preservation.

In Giegengack’s case, the contractor contacted the Forsyth County Historic Landmarks Commission for approval — that is, what is called “a certificate of appropriateness.”

The panels, mounted in the front of the house, were approved on the third try, after the initially proposed total of 29 panels was reduced to 15.

In Lindeman’s case, approval came after the fact, but the panels on his house are largely hidden from view because they are flush-mounted on the rear roof, like neatly arranged rows of blue dominoes.

In both instances, someone had to be among the first … to take something that initially might seem out of place — remember when cars first were required to have three brake lights? — but gradually becomes normal with changing customs and design refinements.

And, unlike Lindeman and Walker, Giegengack has seen savings immediately.

That because his home’s panels provide more electricity than the house requires and the excess amount goes to the power grid.

Duke Energy, in turn, pays him a credit for that power.

That’s all well and good, says Giegengack, an ophthalmologist and professor at Wake Forest University Medical School, but like Lindeman and Walker, he wasn’t in it for the money.

“I decided to do it because it was cool and it was easy and it was a good thing to do,” Giegengack said. “I didn’t do it because I needed the extra money every month. I mean, I like that, but that wasn’t the motivation.”

Either way, it’s a win.

Whether all of us care to acknowledge it or not, climate change is here and now, not a looming threat in the future. You might have seen the recent story about beachfront houses in North Carolina falling into the Atlantic.

A fair warning, however: The science (and politics) of sustainability can be complicated. Green approaches don’t always work in older structures. For one thing, some older construction materials are not compatible with today’s technology.

Further, Duke Energy has proposed to the N.C. Utilities Commission that it be allowed to pay a lower rate in excess solar electricity credits. This means a longer wait for homeowners on a return on their investment.

That said, the new momentum toward residential solar, as well as other alternative energy sources, is welcome, if overdue, in North Carolina. History and sustainability are finding more and more common ground. For instance, as John Deem also has reported, the Forsyth County Historical Resources Commission in 2020 revised design standards for the West End community to include reviews of electric charges and environmentally friendlier building materials.

And why shouldn’t it? Isn’t protecting the planet, which is home to us all, the ultimate form of historic preservation?

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