YOUNGSVILLE ACADEMY IS NOT ALONE

Charter school in Pamlico County also mandating staff go to school

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?

Schools Must Close

New low in disrespect towards educators.

From the March 13, 2020 WRAL 6pm newscast, “Every person will be affected by this different.”

We do not truly know how many people in the state have coronavirus. Testing is limited with Mecklenburg County, NC (home of Charlotte) for example having only 3 tests available a time. Despite this, the only public schools planning to close for Monday are Durham Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and Orange County Schools.

Wake County has the vast majority of the cases of coronavirus in North Carolina, and yet Wake County Public Schools are still planning to hold classes on Monday as of right now.

The most common response has to do with the amount of students who rely on school for breakfast and lunch. That kids are much less susceptible to the virus then adults. Fair. This is all true and teachers have been talking about how schools have plugged holes in society for decades now.

When is enough? We ask, almost demand, educators to sacrifice so much for our students. For the most part, we do it, knowing that no one else will. We already ask too much of the adults in our schools. Risking their health to this extent (potentially even their lives) is too much.

The advice has been given that if teachers are at-risk with health conditions that make them more susceptible they should get a doctor’s note and put in for a substitute. Who is going to pick up that absence? As it is, our schools are struggling to get substitutes for absences. Barely a day goes by that teachers are not force to cover for colleagues that are absent, and that is without a worldwide pandemic.

Major league sports have been cancelled. DPAC has cancelled their shows (belatedly).

From the USA Today,
“Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and Alabama have ordered all schools closed. The governor of Kentucky has recommended closing all schools in that state. Major metropolitan districts in Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas have also shuttered.”

Schools in New Jersey are also starting to shut down, seemingly by the hour. Churches are shutting down. Even Patagonia is closing.

Despite a federal, state and many local state of emergencies.. North Carolina? Nah.

Districts in North Carolina (including my own district – WCPSS) must close down. We must flatten the curve. We must be proactive, not reactive. Before it’s too late.

An Open Letter to Those Who Vote Against Closing Schools for #AllOutMay 1

You have shown your true colors.

Dear Local Board of Educations,

This letter began as thoughts swirled in my head in the hours after my local board of education here in Lee County voted to alter the 2018-2019 school calendar to make May 1st an optional teacher work day in response to the amount of public school workers who had put in for the day.

The conversation in the lead up to the vote in my county swirled around the safety issue that had been created by the amount of substitutes that were going to be needed for the day and the fact that there was the very real chance that students would be put in danger on the morning of May 1st if (or when) people called in sick.

I’ll be honest. I understand why you do not want to close. It’s close to testing. While most everyone these days can agree that testing is harmful to students it is still a large factor in our choices because of the pressure put on districts to get our students to succeed on them. Personally, that pressure we feel is part of why I will be in Raleigh on May 1st.

That being said, with the amount of leave forms that have been turned in over the past month or so, that was not the discussion that was being had at this meeting.

The discussion as mentioned before, came down to safety.

Safety for our students.

At that point, your personal feelings about the politics about the day, which have been and will continue to be discussed ad nauseum, do not matter. Your sole concern should be safety.

So why is it.. that when your Superintendent and head of transportation tell you that they are not comfortable with having school on May 1st, would you still vote against turning it into an optional work day?

That was the case in my district. The vote was 5-2 in favor of the calendar change.

To the 2 votes AGAINST the change.. if you had won the vote, then what? Did you think that far ahead? Or did you just want to score cheap points with your base, which is increasingly shrinking?

You lost any moral high ground you may have perceived that you had when it came to talking about the safety of our students.

You say that May 1st is political theatre. I disagree. That being said, your vote against changing the calendar was political theatre. The difference? May 1st has a good chance at making positive change for our students. Your vote, just showed how out of touch you are and how political you have made the Board of Education.

May 1st, I will be rallying to support our students and school systems who desperately need help.

When you are up for re-election, I will be rallying voters to vote you out.

In a way I should thank you, for you have shown your true colors.

Sincerely,

Dane West

Public School Advocates: It is still personal

It was only last year on May 16, 2018 that public school advocates of all walks of life flooded the streets of Raleigh with 30,000 of their closest friends. Teachers, parents, administrators, and ESPs marched through the streets telling the state government that enough was enough and changes needed to be made.

At the 49th Annual NCAE Convention, it was determined by the Representative Assembly, that our legislators still have a lot more work to do.

May 1st.

On May 1, 2019, the NCAE Representative Assembly is calling on public school advocates of all stripes to take to the streets of Raleigh once more.

Why? Well here are the demands as passed at the Representative Assembly:
1. $15 minimum wage for all workers in schools, 5% raise for all teachers, ESPs (classified staff) and administrators, including a 5% COLA for retirees.
2. Hire enough social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and other health professionals to meet nationally recognized student-to-professional ratios.
3. Expand Medicaid to cover 800,000 more North Carolinians.
4. Reinstate retirement benefits for educators joining the profession after 2021.
5. Restore pay for advanced degrees.

Five issues, one day. May 1st

This is about so much more than a raise. A raise is needed though, especially for our staff members who did not receive a raise with the rest of state workers therefore still make below $15 an hour.

Not having enough social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and other professionals is an enormous stain on North Carolina’s education system.

You do not realize how important having a school nurse in every building, every day is until you do not have one. It is hard to understand how important the school counselors are until you cannot send a student to talk to them because they have lunch duty.

Paying more money for an advanced degree is a no-brainer. What incentive do educators have to spend thousands of dollars on a degree other than a Bachelor’s Degree if they will not be compensated? There is none.

So many of our students would be covered by the expansion of Medicaid. If my students are not healthy, then they cannot learn.

By not giving retirement benefits to those who entered the profession after 2021 will further dilute and suppress the amount of people willing to enter the field of education.

Last year, public school advocates sent a message to Raleigh telling them they would remember in November if significant changes were not made. They held up their end of the bargain, literally changing the faces in the General Assembly.

This year they are coming back. It is still personal. We still demand action.

I was not there May 16, 2018. I will be there on May 1, 2019.

My message to legislators? Stop crawling, start running. My students deserve immediate changes to our education system here in North Carolina.