Teachers Say COVID-19 Too Much of a Risk to Reopen NC Schools

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By patmoran

July 14, 2020

Gov. Cooper announcing his decision today about how, or if, NC schools will reopen.

Teachers are wary of the possibility of the state’s public schools reopening, given the apparently unrelenting threat that COVID-19 poses in the state. 

“As much as we want to go back, and as much as you might need us [to] so you can go back to work, we are not ready,” wrote Kimberly Biondi, a 20-year veteran English teacher in Cabarrus County in a statement sent to Cardinal & Pine.

“COVID-19 has not disappeared and its danger has not diminished,” Biondi cautioned. “Schools cannot guarantee your child’s safety no matter how much we try.” 

Biondi’s comments came as parents, students and teachers awaited Governor Roy Cooper’s decision Tuesday afternoon on whether to reopen the doors of North Carolina’s public schools on Aug. 17 as currently planned. School districts are preparing for three different options, from planning for students to return to the physical schools, going fully remote or a hybrid combination. Many school districts, including county school districts in the state’s metropolitan areas, have already told parents they are working towards hybrid models but also offering families a fully virtual options. 

RELATED: ‘A Story of Uncertainty’: Poll Finds North Carolinians Divided Over Reopening Schools

Cooper was expected to share his decision July 1, but he tabled his announcement, his delay most likely influenced by NC’s ongoing surge in coronavirus cases and teacher’s concerns. 

The governor is expected to announce his decision at 3 p.m. today, in a media briefing to be streamed here

As of Monday, the NC Department of Health and Human Services reported 87,528 cases of COVID-19 throughout the state, with 1,040 hospitalizations and 1,510 deaths.

On Sunday, The Charlotte Observer said that state health officials reported over 400 or more new coronavirus cases in Mecklenburg County for the third day in a row. Saturday’s tally of 450 new cases surpassed the county’s previous record of 430 on July 3, as new infection rates statewide also soared.   

Teachers calling for more input

Across the state, teachers like Biondi are lobbying for their voices to be heard before the reopening decision is made.

The NC Association of Educators, or NCAE, told WBTV that the organization will hold a call for teachers and public-school supporters on Wednesday night called “SOS: Our Schools, Our Safety, Our Say.” 

The call will include teachers from all over the state, providing them an opportunity to connect, organize and share information about how different school districts are reopening.

“If the General Assembly insists that we are in buildings learning and working with our students, they need to fund the safety requirements that are necessary to allow us to do that,” said Wake County NCAE President Kristin Beller said.

The problem is that the Republican-controlled state legislature has not been forthcoming with enough funding, wrote Biondi, who is also a secretary for her local NCAE chapter and a founding member of local teachers’ group Cabarrus County Teachers United. 

“Years of defunding our schools have left us with little in the way of the cleaning supplies we will need for our classrooms,” she said. “Deep budget cuts have swollen class sizes; social distancing will be impossible with classes of twenty or more.” 

Poor ventilation in old buildings with windows that won’t open will only intensify the health crisis, Biondi stressed. Public schools only get a sliver of money from the federal government, she said, with most of the budget coming from state and local taxes. 

State lawmakers have earmarked close to $500 million for school districts to fight COVID-19 next school year, according to a WBTV report, but teachers have said it’s not nearly enough to hit the safety benchmarks lawmakers require, and that it is only one-time funding. 

Teachers are concerned that COVID-19 will still be a threat next school year, and they wonder where the money to combat the disease will come from then. 

Meanwhile, Charlotte Mecklenburg School District (CMS) has sent out surveys to teachers asking them if they will return to classrooms, and if they won’t return, would they be willing to work remotely. 

“I feel like teachers should be the prevailing voice,” said CMS teacher Jennifer Bourne. “In the process of what schools will look like in terms of family school safety.”

Three options in the mix

Up in the air right now is how the state’s schools will open if the Governor decides to stick to the August 17 target date. There are three plans on the table:

Plan A would reopen schools at full capacity, but would also require staff and students to wear face coverings, and take daily temperature and COVID-19 screening checks.

Under Plan B, schools would operate at 50% capacity. Students would either rotate in and out of classrooms with weekly or daily shifts, or the student body would be split between those attending physical classes and those receiving online instruction.

Plan C proposes that all students would continue online learning until health conditions improve enough for them to return to campus.

Last week, Cooper hinted that he would recommend Plan B’s mix of in-class and remote learning. 

Biondi, the Cabarrus County teacher, is hoping that appealing to parents will put pressure on state leaders to provide the funding needed to safely and effectively teach children this year. 

“Parents, we love your kids” she concluded. “We miss them. In order for schools to reopen, we need your help.”


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