Some Union County teachers feel misled by district about returning to classroom

Educator advocates for teachers to have voice on returning to classroom

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Many teachers have voiced their support for returning to in-person classes while others feel like COVID-19 is still too widespread for them to go back to school.

High school math teacher Sophia Stephenson said she can't wait to see her students again.

“Oh my gosh. I’ve been there already -- I’ve been decorating my classroom already,” she said Thursday.

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The Union County Public Schools teacher said she is one of the educators who feel comfortable returning to the school.

“I want them to see I’m there because I love them,” Stephenson said.

However, she knows that not everyone is comfortable going back, which is why she is advocating for Union County teachers to have a choice.

“In this one instance and our families, safety comes first. You have to give parents and children an option to either keep the families safe at home, but then you tell teachers, ‘You don’t deserve that,‘” she said.

Some teachers said they feel misled by the district.

Union County teachers protest school district's reopening plans

School board Chairwoman Melissa Merrel sent Channel 9 a statement after teachers protested Monday at the district headquarters. That statement said more than half the staff took a survey and 86% felt comfortable returning.

Channel 9 received a copy of the survey and being comfortable wasn’t in one of the questions.

The survey asked teachers to indicate their intent for the school year:

  • Remain in your role
  • Apply for a leave of absence
  • Request high-risk employee accommodations
  • Retire
  • Resign

“There was nothing about comfort when the (National Center on Education and Economy) sent out something,” Stephenson said. “The response was 83% of staff does not feel comfortable going back into the classroom.”

Stephenson said teachers are asking only that the district be reasonable. Union County currently has a 9% positive case rate. She said some teachers want that number to be at 5% before returning to schools.

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The district has had three clusters of COVID-19 tied to an in-person graduation ceremony, staff members working together and a football practice.

Graduation ceremonies were held after students and parents protested in front of the superintendent’s home.

“It does make you question someone’s decision-making when you are more inclined to put people in harm’s way than you are to protect (them),” Stephenson said.

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