Teachers on strike, classes still canceled at Union County charter school

WEDDINGTON, N.C. — A Union County charter school that canceled its elementary classes on Monday after too many teachers said they were too upset to come in following their principal’s abrupt firing, has canceled all of its classes for the rest of the week due to staffing shortages.

In a late-night message on Wednesday, Union Day School in Weddington told parents classes won’t be held on Thursday or Friday.

The school sent a notice to parents just before 10 p.m. on Wednesday that classes would be canceled for the rest of the week because of staffing shortages.

Channel 9 education reporter Elsa Gillis heard from two teachers at Union Day School who said they are on strike until the school’s board resigns.

Those teachers told Channel 9 they sent a list of questions they wanted the board to answer about the firing of the school’s former head of school. The teachers said the board did not answer those questions.

The message to parents that went out just before 10 p.m. from the school’s board of directors said there’s a lack of available school staff this week and that the board is assessing the current situation.

The message went on to say the decision to cancel classes was necessary for the safety and security of all students. School officials said they plan to reopen on Monday and that there will be make-up days in the future.

According to staff that spoke with Channel 9, the school’s board fired former principal Matthew Hamilton last Friday.

Channel 9 has been following this situation since Monday when many upset students, teachers and staff protested the board’s decision.

We’re told Hamilton was the sixth principal at Union Day School, which is a K-8 charter school, in the last five years. A staff member told Elsa that Hamilton was working on long-term plans for the school just before he was fired.

The board chair, Jim Lovell, sent the following message to parents on Thursday:

Dear Parents,

I was out of town yesterday on business returning late. Upon returning, I was informed that a “significant” number of teachers were not going to show up for school this morning. Following two days of normal school activity I was hopeful that UDS was returning to school as usual. I guess not. School was canceled in order to make sure your children were safe (carpool staffing etc.).

Here’s three key things I have heard:

  • We have received many communications from teachers that they want to get back to teaching your children.
  • Parents are fed up with these disruptions to their child’s education and parents’ schedules.
  • Parents want transparency

Next steps:

  • I will be getting up to speed on who, what, where and why we are not in school today.
  • We will be assessing our staffing needs and talking with faculty to resolve this issue so we can move on to school as normal on Monday.

Folks, I am extremely disappointed that UDS is not in school today. Children’s education and safety should never be in play to create an outcome. I will be back in contact with you all no later than Friday as to where we have gotten.

Statement from Union Day School:

“Some of our Union Day teachers requested personnel information regarding the termination of a former employee, information that the board can not legally provide by state statute. After being informed that the board would not break state law to fulfill their request for personnel information, some teachers did not report to work today in protest. Board Chair Jim Lovell and another board member met with school leadership today to try to work out a resolution.”

‘This all ends when the board resigns’

Teachers at the school on Friday told Channel 9 they are waiting for the resignation of a board member, followed by three more resignations in the coming days. Unless that happens, those teachers said they are not returning to class.

According to a statement that teachers gave Channel 9 from Hamilton himself, he said that in September he was told one employee filed a grievance against him for creating a hostile work environment. He said he was not afforded due process and procedures to investigate the allegation weren’t followed before he was fired.

Teachers and parents have been calling for the board to provide more information about that sudden decision. They said they’ve not gotten sufficient information about what happened and told Channel 9 they do not see evidence that the proper grievance policy was followed.

On Friday, staff told Channel 9 many of them won’t go back until the board hears them.

“This all ends when the board resigns,” said Ashley Hilliard, a teacher and parent. “We teachers are willing and ready and excited to come back to school and work for our families.”

Board Chair Jim Lovell sent a statement on Friday to staff that said they are requiring all teachers and staff to return to work on Monday -- without exception.

“This is not going to silence us. We have legal questions, we have procedural questions, and that’s what we’ve had all along is questions about the process, the hiring and firing process,” said Kristen Evans, a teacher and parent.

In a note sent to families on Friday, the board chair shared that Hamilton was terminated after “progressive discipline because there was a long pattern of misconduct that included but was not limited to abusive behavior, insubordination and other inappropriate and discriminatory actions towards school staff.”

Aside from those teachers Friday, some parents, like Anissa Jones, said she feels the board isn’t listening to the teachers and she might pull her third grader from the school.

“If my son’s teacher leaves then I have no reason to be here because it’s the teachers that are here that have created this culture that brought us here,” Jones said.

Channel 9 has gotten a few emails from other parents who said these protests don’t represent the whole Union Day community. One parent wrote, saying the majority of parents support the UDS board and are happy with their decisions.

In a letter the board chair sent to parents, he wrote that no board members should ever be forced to resign due to personnel decisions with which staff disagree.

The board chair said the school attorney, outside counsel and the office charter schools, among other parties, all advised that the board, as it exists, has a fiduciary and governing responsibility to the chapter.

The board has told Channel 9 that this is a personnel matter that the board can’t legally discuss publicly.

Below is a message sent to parents on Friday, Oct. 22:

Dear Parents, On Thursday, October 21st, I, as board chair, and another board member met with the Head of Lower School, EC Director, Curriculum Coordinator, and the Interventionist to better understand the staff concerns. During this meeting, they presented to the board members a list of “demands” in order for staff to agree to report to work Monday.

The demands were as follows:

  • Resignation of all the four founding board members.
  • There would need to be a plan presented to remove the two remaining board members.
  • The Board Chair was to present a collaborative plan for nominations and appointments. This includes posting qualifications so that nominations are productive and in a legal manner.
  • Once this is in place the new board would rewrite the entire bylaws.

I agreed to talk with each board member about their demands. After I stated that I could not commit to their demands, they requested a bargaining item which was that if at least one board member did not resign, then we were to fire a specific targeted school employee by today.

It is clear to us that no board member should ever be forced to resign due to personnel decisions with which staff disagree, nor should they trade away employees based on retribution or retaliation. In response to these demands, there were many conversations with our school attorney, outside counsel, finance partner, consultants and the office of charter schools. All advised that the board, as it exists, has a fiduciary and governing responsibility to the charter.

Our Head of School was terminated after progressive discipline because there was a long pattern of misconduct that included but was not limited to abusive behavior, insubordination and other inappropriate and discriminatory actions towards school staff.

As a Board we are required to report to the office of charter schools. We have a third party finance management company and a finance partner for an approximately $14.5 million bond (that was used to purchase and build our school). The finance partner has confidence and trust in the board to continue in its current capacity. UDS has annual public audits (available to the public and presented at yearly board meetings), state audits for CARE money as well as mandated financial public disclosures for the public bond. These partners agree that the board is operating UDS in all manners of governance and we have a healthy school with which we hope to continue the mission and vision.

As per the demand regarding bylaws, we are unable to rewrite charter bylaws except in situations to which the state and finance partners approve. Otherwise bylaws have to remain intact in accordance with the charter contract.

We recognize the communication around these events has provided an opportunity for us to improve. We are willing and dedicated to change. Please encourage the teachers to come back into the classrooms to educate your children.

Regards, Jim Lovell UDS Board Chair

(WATCH BELOW: Union County charter school cancels elementary classes after principal’s exit)