Reema Khrais

Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.

A North Carolina native, Reema began her radio career with Carolina Connection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an anchor and reporter. She later interned at The Story, and traveled to Cairo, Egypt to produce stories from the 2011 revolution. Her work has also appeared on CNN, The Takeaway and On The Media.

Ways to Connect

Swartz
Reema Khrais

At the back of the library, Erik Swartz, a soft-spoken 14-year-old with shaggy hair, flips through papers. They’re rosters he found on Ancestry.com.

“It’s basically the document from the Japanese internment camp from rural Arkansas,” he says.

He scans the document, pointing to several names.

“Francis, my great-grandmother… Jane, one of my great-aunts,” he reads.

Classroom
WUNC File Photo

North Carolina lawmakers passed several education-related bills on Wednesday, just hours before their legislative “crossover” deadline. Most bills that do not involve money must pass either chamber by Thursday at midnight to have a greater chance of surviving the session. Education bills passed by either chamber include:  

Greater Penalty For Assaulting Teachers

NC State House
NCGA

Policymakers at the General Assembly are pushing through dozens of measures with a Thursday deadline looming.

On Tuesday, Representatives pushed through about 30 measures. Most of the bills now heading to the Senate passed following little contention or debate, and with overwhelming support. Among the proposals:

School Boards Keep Power To Sue

Classroom
WUNC File Photo

House representatives in the state's General Assembly presented a bipartisan proposal on Thursday to create a scholarship program to help create highly-effective teachers.

The program, which received its first approval by a House Education Committee, would provide scholarship loans for individuals to attend “highly-effective” education schools. According to the bill, recipients would receive up to $8,500 per year.

“We need to attract and retain high-quality teachers and put them in the places where they’re needed the most,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union).

a teacher in a classroom
Bart Everson / Flickr/Creative Commons

A Senate committee approved a plan on Wednesday that would keep school employees from taking part in political activity during work hours.

Senate Bill 480 would prohibit school employees from campaigning for office while they're on the job or using any work resources, like telephones or computers, for political reasons.

Bill sponsors say state employees already follow similar rules, and that the measure is intended to mirror them. Currently, North Carolina’s 115 school districts abide by different rules for its employees.

North Carolina legislative building
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

State Representatives approved or considered bills on Tuesday that would address sexual assault on college campuses, as well as study the possibilities of giving college students fixed tuition and K-12 students competency exams. Representatives defeated a bill that could've given pay to college football and basketball players.

Addressing Sexual Assault On Campus  

Eighth-grade students Yasmine Boufedji, Angelycia Bogart, Dunya Alkaissi, and Nassir Jordan.
Reema Khrais

As principal Mussarut Jabeen makes her way to the playground, two very young girls run to her, pleading for undivided attention. The first shows off a temporary henna tattoo.

“Oh look at your henna, it’s so pretty,” exclaims Jabeen, principal of Al-Iman, a private Islamic school in Raleigh.

The other girl has just fallen and scraped herself.

“Oh, my little,” Jabeen says. “How about we wash it?”

Classroom
WUNC File Photo

Despite concerns of overcriminalization, a Senate committee on Wednesday gave the first nod to a bill that would make it a felony offense for older students to assault school employees.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said the provision would protect school personnel who faced more than 1,300 assaults in the last school year, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

“It needs some serious attention to highlight that this is a problem and you will get more than a slap on a hand if this occurs,” said Tillman.

Craig Stephen Hicks at an April 6th court hearing.
Reema Khrais

The suspect in the fatal shootings of three young Muslim-Americans in a Chapel Hill apartment in February is eligible to receive the death penalty if convicted, a Durham County Superior Court judge said on Monday.

Durham County District Attorney Assistant Jim Dornfried gave a more detailed narrative of the shooting, explaining that Craig Stephen Hicks had the blood of one of the shooting victims and gunshot residue on his clothes. 

Hicks is charged with the killings of Razan Abu-Salha, 19; her sister, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her husband, 23-year-old Deah Barakat.

Flickr via Cynthia Ahrens / Flickr

Some North Carolina lawmakers are looking to make changes to the state's new A-F grading system for public schools. 

In February, public schools received their first-ever grade based on how well their students performed on standardized tests and how much academic growth they made. Almost 30 percent of schools received Ds and Fs, most of which had large populations of low-income children. 

The grades were calculated on a 15-point scale, so schools received As if they scored between 85-90 and Fs if they scored below 39.

students with laptops in classroom
Enokson / Flickr/Creative Commons

Some North Carolina lawmakers are trying to pass a bill they say will help ease the burdensome paperwork teachers face. They want to get rid of “personal education plans," documents teachers are required to fill out to help students who are at-risk of failing.  

Many teachers and advocates see them as inefficient, raising questions about how to adequately support struggling students.

classroom
Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

State leaders in charge of recommending changes to the Common Core standards heard on Monday from two national critics who suggested a complete rewrite of the Math and English Language Arts goals.

Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram both served on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-10 and refused to sign off on them as being “rigorous, internationally competitive or research-based.” They were among five of the 29 committee members who didn’t approve them.

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha were shot and killed in a Chapel Hill apartment complex.
deah.barakat / facebook.com

Administrators at Al-Iman School in Raleigh where Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat studied elementary and middle schools are creating a scholarship and awards fund in their memory.

The endowment, called "Our Three Winners," will be announced at an annual fundraiser on Saturday.

Yusor, her sister, Razan, and Yusor's husband, Barakat, were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill apartment on February 10. Prosecutors charged their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, with three counts of first degree murder. They will seek the death penalty in the case.

Wren in Durham admires a snowman she and some neighbors made.
Catherine Brand

Wake County public school leaders say don't intend to change their decision to use spring break for snow makeup days, despite rising concerns from families and teachers.

Officials are assuring students and teachers that schools will do their best to make sure they aren’t penalized if they can’t attend those days.

An online petition has garnered more than 7,700 signatures, urging Wake County school leaders to “bring back spring break.” Many of the comments explain that they've already paid for their vacations and can’t get refunds.

Reema Khrais

A state House judiciary committee heard public comment Wednesday on a bill that would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to opt-out of performing marriages altogether if they are opposed to same-sex unions for religious reasons. 

Senate Bill 2 quickly passed in the Senate last week and is now before the House for consideration. At Wednesday’s meeting, a group of House lawmakers heard from nine members of the public, most who oppose the legislation.

Millbrook High School A. P. Human Geography teacher Mark Grow at work
Reema Khrais, WUNC

Many North Carolina students have been in class for only two days in the last two weeks because of the icy weather. But that doesn’t mean some of them haven’t been learning, or that teachers have stopped teaching.

On Friday morning at Millbrook High School in Wake County, Mark Grow carefully sidestepped an icy pathway where someone was shoveling.

“It’s been pretty slippery trying to get in and out of the building,” he said as he walked inside a school pod.

15-501 in Chapel Hill. Southbound is bumper-to-bumper at 1:30 p.m.
Carol Jackson / WUNC

Many North Carolina school districts will have to make some tough decisions on how to make up the recent snow days.

State law requires all public schools to have at least 1,025 instructional hours or 85 instructional days in their calendars. Most school districts have some snow days built into their calendars, so they don’t have to make up all of the lost time.

But for the days they do have to make up, school officials have several options, which include:

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday morning on a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s private school voucher program.

The status of private school vouchers in North Carolina has been in flux ever since two lawsuits were filed in December 2013 that seek to end the vouchers, or Opportunity Scholarships. The North Carolina Association of Educators and the NC Justice Center filed a suit on behalf of 25 plaintiffs, while the NC School Boards Association filed a second lawsuit.

Members of the Barakat and Abu-Salha families share their gratitude for N.C. State's new scholarship fund honoring the memories of Razan Abu-Salha, Deah Abu-Salha and Yusor Abu-Salha.
Reema Khrais

North Carolina State University is creating a scholarship fund to honor Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, three family members who were shot to death in Chapel Hill February 10. A neighbor, Craig Hicks, has been charged with first-degree murder.

“This is the first blessing and the first happy day after the tragedy,” said Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of Razan and Yusor, on Friday afternoon when university officials announced the new endowment.

The 'Old Well' UNC-Chapel HIll
Caroline Culler / Wikipedia

The state’s higher education institutions had a $63.5 billion impact on the state’s economy in the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to a new study. 

Higher education leaders say the report shows that the North Carolina’s institutions of higher education are providing a strong return on investment for students and taxpayers.

It notes that taxpayers invested $4.3 billion to support higher education in 2012-13, and received a $17 billion return.

The families of the three young Muslims fatally shot in Chapel Hill last week have been urging people to see the incident as a hate crime.

Chapel Hill police, who have arrested and charged a suspect, say they’re looking at all possible motives, and the FBI has opened its own parallel preliminary inquiry.

Photo: Sammy Said, Mohammed Eltilibi, Deen Garba, Hussein Ahmad, friends who live together close the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, played basketball regularly with Deah Barakat.
Hussein Ahmad

The families of the three young Muslims fatally shot in Chapel Hill last week have been urging people to see the incident as a hate crime. Chapel Hill police, which have arrested and charged a suspect, say they’re looking at all possible motives, and the FBI has opened its own parallel preliminary inquiry.

But regardless of what authorities have found so far, the tragedy struck a chord with many young Muslims – especially the closest friends of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha.

Students aren't the only ones getting report cards these days. More than a dozen states now grade their public schools using the traditional A through F system. North Carolina is the latest to try it, and most of its high-poverty schools received D's and F's from the state education agency last week.

At Allen Middle School in Greensboro, N.C., nearly every student gets free or reduced-price meals. Between classes, preteens roam the bright hallways that are lined with inspirational quotes.

Deah Barakat and his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha
Twitter: @arabprodigy30

Three Muslim students in North Carolina were shot to death on Tuesday by a neighbor over what police are describing as a parking dispute. The murders have sparked social media outrage in Muslim communities around the world. the day after the murder, Reema Khrais talked with friends of those killed.

The UNC Chapel Hill vigil for three slain students. UNC Dental School students are in the center of the image. 2/11/15
Eric Hodge

People in Chapel Hill and across the Triangle are grieving. Last night was the first public gathering to honor the three Muslim students who were shot and killed this week. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha. Their neighbor has been charged with their murders.

wunc's Reema Khrais attended the vigil and filed this report for NPR:

'Our Three Winners' Facebook page

Forty-six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Deah Barakat, a second-year student in the UNC School of Dentistry and his wife, Yusor, who had planned to begin her dental studies at UNC in the fall. Yusor's sister, Razan, a student at NC State University, was also killed. We will continue to update this story as information becomes available.

Updated Monday, February 23, 10:15 a.m.

AtlantaMuslim.com has created a map of vigils and gatherings related to the shootings and the hashtag #OurThreeWinners

Updated Thursday, February 19 10:30 a.m.

President Obama includes the Chapel Hill shootings in an address at the White House during a summit on violent extremist. Here's a video of the full address:

Updated Thursday, February 19 7:00 a.m.

Much of the discussion about the motive behind the Chapel Hill shooting is whether it was a hate crime. Many in the Muslim community and on social media say it is, but police have not. Jorge Valencia filed this report today about the decision the police face, and the intricacies of a legal hate crime designation.

Updated Monday February 16 5:10 p.m.

A grand jury has indicted Craig Stephen Hicks in the murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, reports Jorge Valencia. Hicks turned himself into authorities last week, just hours after the shooting of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha. Now a grand jury believes there's enough evidence to pursue a felony case against Hicks. He's charged with first-degree murder and discharging a firearm into a dwelling. Chapel Hill police are still investigating and say Hicks may have been motivated by a parking dispute. Family and advocates around the world say Hicks was acting out of a bias against Muslims. 

Updated Monday February 16 10:50 a.m.

Qatar students and community hold solidarity walk for Chapel Hill victims. The march was Sunday and began at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Read more about this march

Hear Phoebe Judge's conversation with a BBC news analyst about the Qatar march

Update Friday February 13 3 p.m.

The White House issued a statement by the President:

"Yesterday, the FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated.  No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.  Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims’ loved ones.  As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family.  Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours."

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said recently.  “It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions – but here, we’re all one.”

Thursday evening, the FBI announced it is looking into the murders. In a statement, the FBI said it has opened a "parallel preliminary inquiry". They're looking to determine if federal laws were violated. Agents will assist local police to process evidence from the triple-homicide.

Update Thursday February 12 2:58 p.m.

Frank Stasio joined Dr. Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center to talk about the events on the nationally syndicated program, The Takeaway. Listen to the audio here.

"If these acts happen in your community, then they are a part of your community, they are a part of your legacy." - Dr. Omid Safi

Update Thursday February 12 11:48 a.m.

The Islamic Association of Raleigh will lead funeral prayers for the three shooting victims today. The funeral prayer will follow the midday prayer at 1:35. NC State University will host a vigil at the Brickyard tonight at 6.

Update Thursday February 12 11:13 a.m.

Update Thursday February 12 10:49 a.m.

One of the victims of the shooting, Yusor Abu-Salha, came to the StoryCorps Mobile Booth when it visited Durham, NC last summer.  >> Listen

Update 8:51 a.m. Thursday Feb 12

Hundreds of people gathered at UNC Chapel Hill last night to remember the three Muslims killed in a nearby shooting, and to support their families.

Farris Barakat is the older brother of victim Deah Barakat. He spoke of the three at the vigil last night. He asked the big crowd to live in their legacy.

"That you share the good that you know of them, and take the message that my mom wanted to make public and 'do not fight fire with fire," Barakat said.

>>WUNC's Jorge Valencia and Reema Khrais both attended the event. Here are their reports.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:44 p.m.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:11 p.m.

"You can't see where the crowd ends" at the vigil to honor the three slain students, reports Jorge Valencia.

Update Wednesday February 11 6:00 p.m.

There is a vigil this evening at 6:30 p.m. at the UNC "Pit." Prior to the vigil, at 6 p.m., a prayer service will be held in the Great Hall of the Carolina Union. Parking will be available in the Bell Tower lot.

Update Wednesday February 11 5:31 p.m.

Nada Salem was best friends with the two young women who died. The 21-year-old Muslim woman told reporter Reema Khrais that she strongly believes the crime was motivated by hate.

Salem points to something that happened a few months ago. She had gone over to the couple's house for dinner.

After she went home, her friend Yusor texted to say that their neighbor, Hicks, had come by, complaining that that young people had been "really loud and disrespectful."

And then, Yusor texted, Hicks "pointed to his gun and his pocket and he said 'I don't want this to happen again.'"

Salem had plans to attend UNC School of Dentistry with Yusor. She says not too long ago the couple gave her her first Carolina Dentistry sweater. The two women wanted to wear the sweaters to school at the same time.

"So that we can be matching and we can tell everyone we got in together; and two days ago she texted me again with [the sweater] picture saying that she can't wait for us to start again…together at dental school," says Salem. "It's like a daze for me, personally, I just don't want to believe it."

Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday we reported that state education officials were expected to vote on whether to approve two virtual charter schools to open next fall.

The schools would serve up to 3,000 students who would take all of their classes at home and interact with students and teachers online. Supporters have argued that it would help students who don’t thrive in traditional settings – especially those dealing with health issues, athletic schedules, or bullying.

teacher with protest sign
Sarah-Jl / Flickr/Creative Commons

North Carolina's Republican lawmakers are trying once more to prevent employees’ associations from collecting their members’ dues via payroll deductions.

a teacher in a classroom
Bart Everson / Flickr/Creative Commons

When North Carolina charter schools were first imagined in the mid 1990s, there were two big dreams: The first was to create something different, a sort of hotbed of innovation. The second was to take all of that new thinking – at least the stuff that worked – and share it with traditional public schools.

“But the second half of that never occurred,” said Jim Merrill, superintendent of Wake County Public Schools.

stack of money
Flickr user 401(K)2013

A failed charter school in Lenoir County mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the state auditor’s office.

Kinston Charter Academy received more than $600,000 of state money two months before it closed, even though it had received several citations for fiscal mismanagement over the years.

The audit says the funds were inappropriately used to cover expenses from the previous year, instead of going toward other public schools that students transferred to after Kinston closed.

Pages