When news broke earlier this week that the charter school Youngsville Academy was mandating that their educators return to school, it spread like wildfire among educators. When WRAL put the story on the evening news, it spread throughout the state. The whistleblower from that school was identified based on their voice, and has been put on leave. As Justin Parmenter notes here via OSHA and WRAL, “it is illegal for employers to terminate employees for reporting unsafe working conditions.”
Since writing about Youngsville Academy, I have learned that they are not the only charter school in the state of North Carolina to be mandating that their educators report to work.
The culprit, is Arapahoe Charter School. According to their website, Arapahoe Charter School enrolls approximately 550 students in grades K-12 from Pamlico County in four surrounding counties.
Sources (who will remain anonymous to protect their job) say that,
“We have to work one day a week at the school. However, the school is open everyday from 8 am to 3 pm. On Mondays the K-5 teachers work all day, Tuesdays the middle school teachers work all day, Wednesdays the high school teachers work all day and Thursdays they have elective classes staff there doing work. The TAs have to work everyday from 8 am to 3 pm doing miscellaneous jobs and have even been assigned to clean our fire house where inventory is kept. Students and parents come to the school during various times to pick up materials and work packets. One of the teachers was written up for staying at home with her two children on a “workday”.
Yes, in the midst of a global pandemic, teachers are being written up to care for their children. In fact, for the first TWO weeks after Governor Roy Cooper closed North Carolina public schools, employees were required to report to school every single day. The educators at Arapahoe are afraid to publicly speak out saying,
“No one can say anything because we are at will employees and the governors orders leave the decisions up to the local school boards and administrators”
Who can blame them, after what the whistleblower from Youngsville Academy is now going through?
School closings began on March 16th. March 17th Arapahoe had what has been described as an “over capacitated staff meeting.” While I do not know if that the staff meeting was over the 100 people maximum that was set by Governor Roy Cooper at the time, it is obvious that staff did not feel safe.
Questions were asked of Chief Executive Director, Chris Watson. Questions that according to staff went unanswered,
“What does an “optional day” mean to us currently at ACS? Does it mean that we have the option [original emphasis] to come to work from school or remotely from home? Does it mean that if we do not come to work during our “shift” that we will have to use our annual leave days? If we have prepared lessons and resources for students (virtually and on paper) over the past few days, do we have the option [original emphasis] to work from home and be available to our students and parents via email while completing the work document that you discussed? Can you please define “Optional Work Days” [again original emphasis] for us? Is this your decision as a Director or the ACS Board of Directors’ decision.
What defines “to the extent feasible” for ACS employees? … In the same respect, who or what defines “safe work environment”? Does this take into account the many teachers who have their children with them on a daily basis due to the current conditions in the country? Does this take into account the staff members who may be dealing with compromised immune systems due to illnesses, pregnancy, recovering from surgery or prior illnesses, or any other medical condition?”
After Governor Roy Cooper’s March 27th Stay at Home Order, Mr. Watson followed with another all staff email saying,
“For purposes of the Executive Order, educational institutions, including preK-12 public schools, are listed as essential business.”
He went on to say,
“In addition to the above, social distancing requirements set forth in the order now require everyone to do the following;
a. maintain at least six (6) feet distancing from other individuals;
b. wash hands using soap and water for at least twenty (20) seconds as frequently as possible or the use of hand sanitizer;
c. regularly clean high-touch surfaces; and
d. facilitate online or remote access for customers if possible.”
School leadership has not offered any rationale for making staff go into the building in the midst of a global pandemic. While in the building, minimal time is spent preparing packets for those students who do not have internet access. That’s it.
Arapahoe Charter School, Chief Executive Director Chris Watson, and the Board of Directors are risking the lives of their staff and community.
And for what? Control?