Plan to delay in-person instruction fails at Gaston County School Board meeting

Survey: Majority of Gaston County teachers don’t feel safe returning to school

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A little more than 80% of teachers and staff returning to schools in Gaston County said they don’t feel safe doing so, according to a new survey released by the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Teachers across the county are training on one of the two distance-learning programs students will use for half a week during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School board member Dot Guthrie said instead of using a hybrid program, distance learning should be done full time.

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She said COVID-19 case numbers are too high and in-person education is not safe.

Guthrie made a pitch to delay in-person instruction by at least nine weeks at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“I am going to plead to my board colleagues, ‘Don’t wait until someone happens before you make a decision,’” Guthrie said.

No one on the school board made a second motion to Guthrie’s plan at Wednesday’s meeting, so there was no vote. The plan failed.

Guthrie, who is a former teacher, was the only school board member to vote no last month when the board decided to start the year with a hybrid plan.

That plan includes spending two days a week studying in class, two days at home and Wednesdays off.

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The other board members said it was the best way forward using social distancing, temperature checks before school and having students wear masks.

"I don't think that we are ready for this mammoth task," Guthrie said.

She wanted the board to delay in-person education for nine weeks or at least until after Labor Day. She believes the study by the Gaston County branch of the NCAE proves her point.

Nearly 1,800 people, mostly school employees and parents, were surveyed last week.

The survey, using COVID-19 data from July, asked participants if they felt comfortable opening schools with a virus positivity rate at 13%, which is nearly three times the rate suggested by the CDC for reopening school:

  • 25% said yes
  • 75 % said no

However, three-quarters of school employees said they will return to work when school starts in two weeks.

Those employees were also asked if they feel safe and confident returning to in-person instruction on Aug. 17 -- 80.8% said no.

"It's really scary," said Pam Miller, president of the Gaston County NCAE.

Miller, who is a first-grade teacher, said the study reveals what many fear that if only one student is infected, gets on a school bus and makes it to class, COVID-19 could rapidly spread.

"Our very first priority, even on a regular day with no pandemic, is the safety and well-being of our students, and that's what has to come first," she said.

Miller said the superintendent and all school board members got a copy of their survey.

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