Editor’s Note: The I-SS Board of Education meets Monday at 6 p.m. at the Career Academy & Technical School located 350 Old Murdock Road in Troutman. Read the agenda HERE.

Some 76 percent of I-SS employees surveyed by Our Schools First said they prefer online only instruction due to COVID-19

BY MIKE FUHRMAN

Iredell-Statesville Board of Education members should rethink their decision to begin the school year with a mix of in-person and remote instruction, also known as Plan B.

That’s the undeniable takeaway from a survey of 576 I-SS employees conducted by Our Schools First, a non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to educating the community about the importance of public education in our county and state.

Teachers, administrators, classified staff, and licensed support staff who participated in the survey sent several clear messages to the school board and central office:

♦ 76 percent of respondents prefer to open the 2020-2021 school year with 100 percent remote instruction (known as Plan C);

♦ 80 percent of teachers and 85 percent of administrators who responded have concerns about their personal health if the district opens under Plan B;

♦ 77 percent of teachers and 77 percent of administrators who responded have concerns about the health of household members if the district opens under Plan B; and

♦ 92 percent of administrators and 84 percent of teachers who responded have concerns about the health of students if the district opens under Plan B.

“This week it became apparent that we weren’t hearing the full story of how Iredell-Statesville Schools employees felt about re-opening schools under Plan B,” Our Schools First officials wrote in a news release announcing the survey results.

I-SS administrators and school board members painted a very different picture during last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting. According to the district’s survey of 1,982 employees in May, 95 percent of respondents said they would continue in their position with no restrictions.

Superintendent Jeff James outlined the measures put into place to protect students and staff, including extensive sanitizing efforts, daily COVID-19 screenings for students, and social distancing and face covering requirements for students and school personnel.

James said district officials have been in regular contact with Iredell County Health Department officials as they plan for the reopening.

“I guarantee you every nook and cranny is being disinfected on a daily basis,” he said.

Although Mooresville Graded Schools and American Renaissance School officials, among others, have opted to provide remote learning for the first nine weeks, James said school districts in nearby Catawba, Davie, Gaston, Lincoln and Rowan counties had committed to Plan B.

Board members expressed a high degree of confidence in the district’s ability to implement guidelines developed by the N.C. Department of Instruction and the CDC.

“Have faith in us,” board chairman Martin Page said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep our staff and students safe.”

Some 4,000 of the district’s 20,000 students have enrolled in online classes for the new school year, demonstrating that many families have concerns about the potential for COVID-19 to spread rapidly in schools.

The survey results released by Our Schools First illustrates that many administrators and teachers share those concerns.

Numerous I-SS employees have contacted Iredell Free News in recent days to share their misgivings about Plan B. Each of these individuals shared their concerns on the condition that they not be identified because they were worried they would face consequences, including termination, for criticizing the administration and school board.

Here’s what they had to say:

I’m a teacher assistant/bus driver. As a bus driver I feel like I’m putting my life on the line for minimum pay! They are not planning to take students’ temperatures until they get to school — for me to feel halfway safe this should be done at the bus stop. How can we safely get kids where they need to be 6 feet apart even with only 10 kids? I don’t think I-SS thought how long that line would be! I am just trying to figure out why every school district around us is doing Plan C but us! I think I-SS should do plan C and slowly move to Plan B for the safely of everyone.

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I would like to know that we followed the data and did not rush back into things. Our district prides itself on being data-driven and yet I’m not sure it is now. I hate the fact that my husband and I are both teachers and we have started making our wills. That is fear — not fear for ourselves, but for our own kids and the kids we teach. After seeing outbreaks at day summer camps and daycares, is it really all worth the suffering? We can effectively teach virtually and need to do so, at least until there is a vaccine or antiviral. I know people want to have their kids back so they can go back to work, but with it only being two days a week (under Plan B) it seems to me that it would be harder to schedule something like that. I also know a lot of people, particularly in the north end of the county, are refusing to wear masks and that is something that should be a deal breaker in school. Thank you for your time and listening to our concerns. I’m sure I have said nothing that is new, but hopefully someone will listen to our concerns. We do love our jobs and the kids and we want to be able to teach — just safely.

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As a teacher in the Iredell-Statesville school system I was disheartened to hear our superintendent spread disinformation on Charlotte Talks recently. When he stated that 80 percent of his teachers said they wanted to return to the classroom, I could not understand where he got that number from. I know of very few teachers that I work with who want to go back under the current plan. Teachers have not been polled about how comfortable they would be going into the classroom since the end of last school year. I have not talked to a single colleague who is comfortable with our district’s current plan. There is a lot of fear around the idea of bringing people back into the buildings. The results from the survey that we filled out at the end of last school year have never been publicly shared. At no point were we asked outright if we are comfortable being in the classroom during a pandemic, nor has it been sent out again since we filled it out. If anything our hesitation has only increased over time. The plan our district has given us is vague at best. If you go to the page they provide for more information it is very general with no actual information. The district has already been facing a massive substitute teacher shortage before this pandemic and it will only be worse now. Last year in my school, we experienced days with multiple teachers out and the solution was to spread their kids around to other classes in their grade level. There were days where I had 40-plus children in my classroom. In the recent emergency board meeting Alvera Lesane, the head of HR, stated that if there is a shortage of subs class sizes will have to “increase.” To many of us, it feels like the district is preparing to look the other way while we violate the policies put in place to keep us safe. Looking at my class roster for the upcoming year I can already see that some of my classes have 30-plus children in them. Split in half that is over 15 kids in my room before I am forced to take more kids in the event of a sub shortage. Our administrators have mapped out the max number of kids we can have and be compliant with social distancing and it is 17. That feels like it is being pushed as far as it can go. We are getting no feedback beyond the rough outline of the federal guidelines. Allegedly our bathrooms will be cleaned three times a day. We have not hired more custodial staff and they struggled to clean them once a day before this. We will be giving sanitizing wipes to each kid as they come into the room and they will be responsible for sanitizing their station. This means that most kids will be sanitizing a space another child has occupied; this seems potentially dangerous if a child is infected and another child does an improper job of cleaning their space. Despite the comments by our superintendent about ventilation systems being in good shape, our units are notorious for breaking down. I have yet to teach a full year without having the system be broken down for a day or two and unusable. At this point, we are still not sure if we will be allowed to open our windows at the bare minimum to provide some ventilation. Please help us get our message out. The Board of Education is playing politics and has even referred to the mandate to wear masks in the classroom as “unfortunate.” This is not rhetoric that inspires confidence in the staff at a time when cases continue to rise. I promise you that teachers are not being heard and many are extremely fearful, hesitant and frustrated. The district is not listening to us and often dismisses our concerns off hand. I have a lot of anxiety about returning to the classroom.

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Honestly, when some board members speak about “teachers,” it sounds like even the word leaves a bad taste in their mouths. It is difficult to feel as though your opinion will be valued and supported in any way. When the statistic of roughly 95 percent of teachers on their intent form reported that they feel safe returning to work with no restrictions, they failed to spend much time discussing that this does not mean they are returning without fear. I received this form on a Monday and had to submit it by Wednesday. If there was a true viable option to teach remotely, this was not shared, and it was clear from the meeting that those remote positions don’t really exist in that capacity. I am a single teacher. I must return full time to work. I knew the only way to be guaranteed a position was to choose that I plan to return to face-to-face instruction. In addition, if a teacher was to decide to take a position at a local charter school or in another district were the feel more supported, it felt as though one specific board member took that opportunity to threaten that they have the power to hold us for thirty days. I can give many reasons why so many teachers feel unsafe returning.

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Teaching is my God-given calling. I love the hundreds of kids I’ve taught in my seven-year career. I’ve chosen to make a difference over making money in my life because my kids are worth it. I, like most of my teacher friends, buy my own supplies, work overtime, and will make countless sacrifices for my students. I would rather be in my classroom, hugging and loving my students, and teaching them life skills instead of having them seeing me extremely nervous in front of a camera or prerecorded video lessons. However, if I truly love my kids, I don’t want them to be at risk. I don’t want my students who are asymptomatic sharing COVID-19 with their family members they may live with. I’m also scared for myself and my family and how teaching is putting me, my colleagues, admin, counselors, social workers, janitors, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and more at risk. I feel frustrated at the lack of respect and concern for teachers after we received such praise this spring for revolutionizing education overnight amidst a pandemic. I believe we should be using our resources to help teachers learn best practices and share the things that they know work in an online only format. Our COVID-19 numbers in Iredell County are still trending upward at a steep rate. We have learned that children of all ages can become infected and contribute to the spread of this illness. We know that there is a significant number of personnel in our schools who have compromised immune systems or go home to a family member who does. How can we in good faith and with a good conscience put our students, educators, and their families in harm’s way? When the state is unable to progress from Phase 2 of reopening and there are limits on gatherings, how can we demand that hundreds of children and educators gather inside a school building? When the group of people deciding our fate finds it prudent to meet, discuss, and plan online, how can you ask students and educators to do differently and risk their physical and mental wellbeing? I believe, and I hope anyone can agree, that for now, Plan C is the better option. Students will be in an environment that supports their learning and health in a more positive way. Students will be able to talk to one another and work in cooperative groups online. Students will be better able to participate in forums and discussions without masks. Social distancing will not be a factor in causing students to withdraw or shut down completely. Students can meet one on one with their teacher for extra support. Students will not have to wear a mask or worry that they were exposed to COVID-19 at school. As a district, we have already learned how to distribute other things our students need from school such as food, electronic devices, internet capability, and social/community services. During this time, our district should provide learning and support for educators to do their best teaching online. At the end of that delay, begin with online only schooling. Assess again in late fall or after the new year, using science and local data, to determine when schools should reopen to in person learning. We all want to be safe. One life lost, especially due to haste, is one too many.

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I’m a teacher assistant and bus driver for Iredell Statesville schools. I’m terrified to go back to work. I chose to let my three kids go virtual to reduce the risk. Now I’m worried I will bring something to one of my kids. One child has asthma but all three have a nebulizer that they use occasionally. I can’t afford to take a leave because I don’t have enough paid benefit time. My days were used when my children were sick or myself. I’m a single mom and I have to work. This virus doesn’t discriminate who gets it. I thought if the county positive rate was over 5 percent then students would go virtually; we’re at 8 percent the last time I checked. The cases are growing and more kids are getting it. I always feel teacher assistants are get screwed over. At this point, all I can do is pray they change to Plan C. Thank you for giving me a chance to voice my opinion.

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