BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Board of Education members heard from a large group of concerned teachers, parents and community members during their meeting Monday evening.
About a dozen people signed up to address the board about the reopening of school under Plan B, which is a mix of face-to-face and online instruction.
Chairman Martin Page told the group that the board was allowing 15 speakers to speak for two minutes each.
James Hogan, a spokesman for Our Schools First, presented the board with findings from the education advocacy group’s one-week survey to see if I-SS teachers and staff really wanted to return to school under Plan B. The results of the survey – that 76 percent of 576 respondents preferred the district begin the school year with 100-percent remote instruction (Plan C) – were at odds with the district’s data.
“We thought that we’d get maybe 100 responses in over a week. But pretty quickly it blew up,” Hogan said.
The Our Schools First spokesman asked the board to seek out the opinions of all employees in a transparent way. Some staff may be sick right now and don’t have the confidence to report that, he added.
Hogan said his organization is trying to advocate for all teachers.
“We support teachers who are in favor of Plan B. We support teachers who are in favor of Plan C. We support you as our board of education, and we are deeply invested in your success because my children and our children’s well-being are on the line,” he said.
However, a majority of the speakers Monday agreed that reopening under Plan B was the best option, stressing that time out of the classroom could have a negative impact on students’ mental health, nutritional health and well-being.
“I’m not afraid to be in a room with them (students). I know that’s not a very popular opinion amongst a lot of teachers. I absolutely respect that,” said West Iredell High School teacher Joy Blalock.
“My biggest concern is we aren’t being kind to one another. There’s a lot of complaining—there’s a lot of negative talk and our children are hearing that,” she added.
Union Grove parent Amanda Jordan thanked Superintendent Jeff James for his leadership and expressed her faith in the school system’s teachers. She said that she supports operating under Plan B and challenged others to “be the solution, not the problem.”
School board member Ken Poindexter said the board is doing the right thing by operating under Plan B.
He said that his wife, who is a teacher, is excited about getting back into the classroom. Poindexter also pointed out that the CDC believes that keeping kids out of school even with a global pandemic could have detrimental effects on their health.
Poindexter also asked Our Schools First to stay out of the school board’s business matters.
“I question the motive of an organization that wants to be so involved in what’s going on with our school system. I don’t think it’s right that they are involved,” Poindexter said.
School board member Bill Howell took offense with the advocacy group as well.
“People that we thought were our friends are no longer our friends.”
“We have this small group of people who think they know best for us,” Howell said. “I thought we lived in a democracy where the majority rules. This group, by definition, are fascist.”
Howell said he does not accept their philosophy, and that the district’s staff has worked very hard to prepare for this year.
During a five-minute recess, Howell spoke sternly and loudly to Hogan inside the men’s restroom, which could be heard from the outside.
Hogan, who took issue with his organization being called fascist, said that Our Schools First has done a lot for public schools in Iredell County, including working to build support for the passage of the recent school bond and advocating for legislative action to help teachers and students.
“Being called fascist by a board member isn’t kindness, it’s not gratitude. We were simply trying to help. I think we were very aggressively attacked,” Hogan said.