Parents, teachers sign petition to keep Fridays virtual in Union County

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — The Union County Board of Education held an emergency meeting last Monday where leaders approved a plan to transition middle and high school students to in-person learning five days a week.

Prior to the change, Fridays were virtual learning days across the district -- and some want that day back.

Thousands of teachers and parents have signed a petition to keep Fridays virtual, meaning students would learn inside the classroom Monday through Thursday, instead of 5 days a week.

[READ PETITION HERE]

The district’s decision to return to the classroom came days after Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders announced Senate Bill 220, which requires all public elementary schools move into Plan A and allows districts to decide whether middle and high schools operate under Plan A or B.

The Union County superintendent had recommended students in grades 6-12 to attend school in-person Monday-Thursday, starting April 12, which is the first day of the last grading period. Friday would have remained a remote learning day for the district to do a deep clean, to give teachers extra planning time and for parent/staff meetings.

Instead, the board approved a motion to return students grades 6-12 to the classroom Monday-Friday starting April 12.

The board also voted to bring elementary students in-person five days a week beginning April 12. Before, they were already going to school four days a week under Plan A.

School officials said many staff will have already gotten their second COVID-19 vaccine dose by then and will be fully vaccinated.

“It was great news, I definitely have an excited 14 year old,” local mother Julie Morton said.

Morton’s 9th grader is not alone in her excitement to return to class full-time after a long and tough year.

“Now that we’re farther along down the line and we have a better grip on this pandemic, understand it more, definitely I say it’s time to go back,” Morton said.

While many parents said they believe its time to go back five days a week, some educators are concerned.

Union County Association of Educators President and elementary school teacher Pam Carlton said like many, she teaches both remotely and in-person and that Friday remote day made a huge difference.

>> In the video below, education reporter Elsa Gills walks us through a journey that started one year ago when local schools closed because of the pandemic.

“It is difficult to be able to plan and do all that work without having those virtual Fridays so those Friday were not just free days for teachers those Friday were used for planning, for small groups, virtual teaching,” Carlton said.

She said teachers are happy to have students back, but there’s still a lot to figure out.

“Teachers just keep your head up, we’re gonna get through this,” she said.

Channel 9 learned that 11,000 parents and teachers have signed the petition started by a Marvin Ridge student to keep Fridays virtual.

Christina Vanncampen is a second grade teacher in Union County and the mom of two high school students in the district.

She added her name to the petition.

“We feel we have risen to the occasion and even more but that success has hinged on that virtual Friday,” Elena Brown with the Union County Association of Educators said.

Brown said virtual Fridays are so critical the group started a letter writing campaign.

“Just listen to the plea of your hard working teachers and parents,” she said.

School Board Chair Melissa Merrell told Channel 9 that there’s no chance. She said the majority vote 7-2 will not be reconsidered.

“We intend to provide our students the education they deserve and were horrified by our failure rates reported last month,” Merrell said.

Vancampen said for teachers, full-time in-person learning is a big ask at the end of a very hard year -- one that might just be too much.

“A lot of good quality educators are going to leave the field over the way things have been handled and that make me really sad,” she said.

Under Plan A social distancing is not required on the school bus and classrooms can be full. Masks are still required, but visitors will be limited and everyone will still be doing daily symptom and temperature screenings.

According to Senate Bill 220, districts who move to Plan A for grades 6-12 will be required to notify the state health department and share their plan. They must also participate in the ABC Science collaborative through Duke University’s medical school to engage in robust contact tracing and COVID-19 data collection.

Union County elementary schools will continue in-person learning four days a week under Plan A until April 12. Middle and high school students will continue attending in-person classes two days a week under Plan B until the transition to Plan A on April 12.