“If It’s Not Safe For The School Board To Meet In Person, Then Why Is It Safe For Teachers To Meet For Eight Hours A Day?”

UNION CO., N.C. – Teachers in Union County are up against the clock. School starts August 17th. Educators who don’t feel safe returning for in-person learning have to convince the board of education to change its mind before then. “Everything, everything is on the table,” says math teacher Sophia Stephenson. She says that includes protests, a walk-out, petitions, organizing parent protests, and more. Stephenson says, “We are going to find a way to make our voice heard.”

Sibel Hovis also teaches math. She doesn’t want to return to in-person teaching right now, saying, “I’m afraid I’m gonna get sick.” Hovis is strategizing how to make her classroom safer, like spacing out student desks, “I will plan on opening the window,” and, “I’m gonna try to find some Clorox wipes. As for what the district will provide? Hovis says, “Last I heard it was just hand sanitizer.”

“Call and write your board member,” is the advice from librarian and literacy teacher Brittany Gendron. She wants the board to read a 16 page report generated by a local group called EduAdvocates, of which Gendron, Hovis and Stephenson are members.

Gendron says, “That report is genuine.” It includes concerns from more than 170 people who provided feedback like: “How can a small group of the same adults continue to meet remote (sic) while determining to send an entire county of students and staff back?” And, “When children and staff get infected – UCPS better own it.”

And that’s actually already happened.

16 people who attended Marvin Ridge High School’s in-person graduation in June tested positive for COVID. The health department confirmed a second COVID cluster at East Union Middle School involving five staff members. And three players on Forest Hill’s football team tested positive for COVID after small group workouts a few weeks ago.

Stephenson wants all teachers to feel comfortable when they return to the classroom. She says, “As of right now, that’s not the way it looks and that’s a big, big problem.”

WCCB asked every member of the board for comment on the EduAdvocates report. No one replied. We did confirm with the district spokeswoman that as of July, 91 Union County Public Schools employees have submitted their resignation. Last July, 57 had. That’s a nearly 60 percent increase.