Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools shelved one of its proposed reopening plans, and the board of education will now consider a new plan, one that is much more affordable and puts students from kindergarten through sixth grade back in brick-and-mortar schools for daily instruction.
Superintendent Angela Hairston presented the new plan to the board at a special called meeting on Tuesday. No action was taken on the plan.
Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce in a few weeks whether public schools in North Carolina will be allowed to open with minimal or moderate social distancing, or if remote learning will be required. Each of the state’s school systems is coming up with plans on how it will reopen schools based on guidelines from the state.
The challenge for the local board is how to reopen schools with moderate social distancing, known as Plan B. In such a plan, students must be spaced apart so that only 14 to 15 students can be a classroom. In June, the local district presented a plan that would have cost $45 million, with no source for that money.
“We don’t have those types of dollars so we have to look at resources and bring you a plan that we can execute,” Hairston said.
Under the new plan, students from K-6, as well as English learners, special needs children and others in self-contained classrooms would attend school daily.
Hairston said this plan will help parents who would have to choose between employment and leaving their children unattended.
Students in 7-9 grade would be divided into two groups, with one group going to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the second group going to school on Thursdays and Fridays. When not learning in-person, those students would have remote instruction. Wednesdays would be a remote learning day for all students and give teachers time to plan those lessons.
Those classes would be taught in high schools, which have more classroom space.
The system had been looking at having these students in on alternating weeks.
“We felt this would enable us to place eyes on children every single week,” Hairston said.
Students in 10-12 grade would have virtual school on every day but Wednesday, which would be set aside for personal meetings or tutoring sessions.
One of the biggest changes will be with transportation. The state will now allow up to 24 students to sit on a bus, if they wear a mask. About half of the district’s 55,000 students ride a bus to school. But with reduced capacity, buses won’t have room for everyone.
Instead, the district will assign bus seating on a first-come, first-served basis. Typically, every student is assigned a bus route. Under the proposal, parents would need to register for a seat. The district hopes to arrange additional transportation through the Winston-Salem Transit Authority.
For students who can’t find transportation, the district will recommend that students attend the new Virtual Academy, which already has about 2,300 applicants.
“This is not a perfect plan,” Hairston said, “but it’s affordable to us.”
Board Member Barbara Burke said she has heard from several teachers who are fearful for their health if they are asked to return to the classroom. She and other board members asked about what sort of sick leave or workman’s compensation is available for teachers and other staff members who contract the virus while at school.
Dionne Jenkins, the district’s general counsel, said that information could be found through the district’s Human Resources Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She said some legal information would need to be discussed in closed session.
Burke said her question was not answered.
“If I am an employee and received the response that was given I would feel even more uncomfortable after hearing the response than I did before the question was asked,” Burke said.
Employees should not have to use any of their personal or sick leave if they get sick with COVID-19, Burke said, agreeing with a point made earlier by Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger.
The board will hold another called meeting Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss a potential resolution to the State Board of Education and Cooper seeking more support and consideration in light of the COVID-19 reopening options.
No one who might know something about the death of Ella Crawley wanted to talk to police Tuesday morning.
Dozens of Winston-Salem police officers, joined by officers from Greensboro and federal agencies, went door to door in neighborhoods surrounding Gateway Commons Park in the central part of Winston-Salem, handing out flyers and asking the same question to everyone they came across: “Do you know what happened to Ms. Ella?”
Person after person, at door after door, seemed to have the same, simple answer. “No.”
Two people walking in the park on May 23 found Crawley, 50, near a walking path close to Northwest Boulevard. Crawley had been severely beaten and was partially clothed when they found her, police have said. She died a day later in a hospital.
There is a makeshift memorial at the spot where the early morning parkgoers found Crawley. Flowers, crosses and candles occupy the spot she lay after being left for dead. Three women walking around the park passed the memorial and were asked if they knew anything about Crawley. None of them did, and they kept walking.
Little is known about Crawley’s life in the days and hours leading up to her death, Winston-Salem police Lt. Gregory Dorn said Tuesday morning. Homeless, Crawley would either sleep in an outdoor stairwell at Union Baptist Church or across the street from where she was attacked, or stay with friends when she could, Dorn said.
Plenty of people had seen Crawley around the neighborhood before, but investigators have had a hard time pinning down details about her life in Winston-Salem. She had irregular access to a cellphone and didn’t leave behind a digital trail for investigators to try to follow, Dorn said.
However, there are at least two witnesses who know something about Crawley’s death, Dorn said. One person told investigators they heard arguing in the park but didn’t see anything.
The other witness is a child who may have actually seen the violent acts. Because the witness is a child, investigators can’t interview him or her without their parents’ permission, and the child’s mother has refused to allow an interview, Dorn said.
“It may be because they want to protect the child,” he said. “Or it could just be because it was dark and it’s hard to tell if anyone actually saw anything.”
On Monday, Melissa Crawley, Ella’s sister, and two local activists, Miranda Jones and Ikulture Chandler, criticized the police department’s plans to canvass the neighborhood.
Jones said she is not convinced police will get any new leads from canvassing communities where Black people have been traumatized by their interactions with police and are not inclined to trust officers.
She said it is disgraceful if the door-to-door effort is all the police have to offer a Black woman who was murdered and mentally ill.
“It seems like a bit of a stunt and, for us, that’s not good enough,” Jones said.
Police officers and detectives weren’t shy in saying Tuesday morning that it’s rare to find someone in a canvass who actually talks on the spot. Most people will do what they did, which is either not come to the door or say they don’t know anything.
“We’ve not had a lot of immediate success with these responses,” Dorn said.
People don’t want to be seen talking to officers, police Sgt. Michael Knight said after knocking on several doors in the Aster Park Apartment Complex.
Dorn said the point often isn’t to have someone talk on the spot but to leave them with a flyer and a phone number. Maybe a person won’t talk at the time, in front of a swarm of police officers and reporters. But it’s not uncommon for detectives to get a call in a week or so.
“We’ve been lucky before, but this might be the one where we strike the right nerve with someone and they talk to us,” he said.
The man accused of fatally shooting Julius Randolph Sampson Jr. outside a restaurant at Hanes Mall in August has been indicted for murder.
Late Monday, a Forsyth County grand jury indicted Robert Anthony Granato, 23, on a charge of first-degree murder. He was also indicted on a charge of carrying a concealed gun after or while consuming alcohol.
The indictments move the case into Forsyth Superior Court, where either a trial date will be set or prosecutors and Granato’s attorney will agree to a plea deal. As with many murder cases, it could be months before the case is resolved. A jury trial would likely be delayed even more because of COVID-19 health precautions.
Sampson, a married father of three children and a barber who worked at Hanes Mall, was shot to death on Aug. 6, 2019, outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, where he had been having lunch with a friend. The shooting sparked allegations that Granato, who is white, killed Sampson because Sampson was Black.
Granato’s attorney, Paul James, claims that Granato killed Sampson in self-defense after he said Sampson slammed Granato to the ground and then choked and hit him. According to an autopsy, Sampson died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Monday’s indictment alleges that Granato “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did of malice aforethought kill and murder Julius Randolph Sampson Jr.” If convicted of first-degree murder, Granato would face either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors have not announced whether they will pursue the death penalty.
Not only is Granato’s attorney claiming self-defense, he is also arguing that Granato’s actions are protected under North Carolina’s castle doctrine, which provides a so-called stand your ground defense. In other words, under the law, a person is justified in using deadly force and has no duty to retreat in “any place he or she has the lawful right to be” if deadly force is needed to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
That has led some of Sampson’s supporters, including his wife, Keyia Sampson, to protest North Carolina’s stand your ground law and call for state legislators strike it down.
James and Forsyth County prosecutors hotly dispute some of the facts of the case. But they broadly agree on some of what is alleged to have happen:
At 3 p.m. Aug. 6, 2019, Granato and his friend, Landon Smith, came into BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Granato had a concealed carry permit and was carrying two guns — a 9-mm handgun and a .22-caliber Derringer pistol. Before going into the restaurant, Granato put the 9-mm handgun into the glove compartment of his car. James said Granato forgot he had the pistol.
Later, Sampson and his friend came into the restaurant to have lunch.
Three empty seats separated the two groups of men. Granato, after having several drinks, complained that there wasn’t enough alcohol in his drinks and used misogynistic language to describe female staffers, including using a term referring to female genitalia, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin said in a January hearing.
Managers asked Granato and Smith to leave. Sampson and his friend got up at the same time.
James and Martin dispute what happened next. Martin has said that Granato was lying in wait for Sampson, hiding the pistol behind his back. James said that’s not true.
Outside the restaurant, Sampson said, “You ain’t never messed with a N-word like me before.” Granato repeated the phrase back to him, using the N-word, which James said enraged Sampson to the point that Sampson rushed Granato, threw him to the ground and choked and hit him.
James has argued that Granato had a traumatic brain injury and had been told if he took another hit to the head, it might be fatal. James said because of that, Granato feared for his life and fired the gun as a result.
Martin has said they have multiple theories that Granato committed premeditated murder. Martin also said that Granato was involved in two prior incidents in which he brandished a handgun. James said Granato was never criminally charged in those incidents.
A court date in Forsyth Superior Court has not yet been set.
An inmate in the Forsyth County jail was found dead early Tuesday, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said.
Detention officers said they later found a suicide note left by the inmate, Anthony Robert Giles, 31, of Winston-Salem
Giles was found unresponsive at 12:33 a.m. by a detention officer during rounds, according to the sheriff’s office said. Efforts to revive Giles, including CPR, were unsuccessful.
“Based on the culmination of all the evidence to include the suicide note left by Mr. Giles, the death is a suicide,” said Brad Stanley, a special assistant to Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr.
No details were released about how Giles died or where in the jail he was found.
The sheriff’s office contacted the State Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating Giles’ death, the sheriff’s office said. The SBI’s inquiry into a jail inmate’s death is standard protocol.
Giles is scheduled to be autopsied Thursday at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, said Dr. Jerri McLemore, the hospital’s medical director of forensic pathology.
Giles’ family members in New Hampshire have been notified of his death, Stanley said.
Giles was being held in the downtown jail after being arrested May 1 on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting injury and assault on a female. On May 4, Giles was also charged with a parole violation.
According to arrest warrants, Giles was accused of using a butcher knife to stab a woman he was either living with or had lived with. The arrest warrants alleged that Giles stabbed the woman in the head and also choked her from behind and in the front with his hands and arms. The incidents are alleged to have happened May 1.
According to court records, Giles was scheduled to appear Aug. 17 in Forsyth District Court on the charges.
Giles’s death is the second reported in recent weeks related to the jail.
The SBI is also is investigating last year’s death of John Neville, 57, who also was an inmate in the Forsyth County jail and died Dec. 4 after being taken to the hospital from the jail.
The jail released no information about Neville’s death until last week, after receiving questions from the Winston-Salem Journal.
Neville was wanted on a charge of assaulting a female in Guilford County, authorities said. Kernersville police officers arrested him Dec. 1 during a traffic stop. No force was used, and Neville was cooperative, Kernersville police said. The arresting officer took Neville to the Forsyth County jail, where he was booked into custody.
The sheriff’s office said Neville “experienced a medical emergency” the next day and was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he later died. A death certificate lists Neville’s cause of death as pending. His case was referred to a medical examiner.
Investigators have reviewed police body-camera video recordings and jail surveillance video of the incidents leading up to Neville’s death.