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Teacher Advocacy Group Seeks Pause In Sending Students Into Buildings

Clover Hill High School
As Chesterfield County Public Schools plan to bring the next group of students back for part time, in-person classes, an anonymous survey of about 900 school staff shows the majority feels “unprepared” and “unsafe” to return. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

As Chesterfield County Public Schools plan to bring the next group of students back for part time in-person classes, an anonymous survey of about 900 school staff shows the majority feel “unprepared” and “unsafe” to return.

The polling was conducted last week by the teacher’s union, the Chesterfield Education Association. This follows the school board’s health committee vote to bring middle and high school students back for a mix of virtual and face-to-face classes starting today.This comes after an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the county and a divided recommendation by the district’s health committee. 

Many teachers and some school board members were concerned about the decision, given that the health committee had adopted the state’s guidelines. Those call for pausing in-person instruction when numbers reach a level of “moderate risk.”

At the time, CCPS’s student health coordinator said CCPS’s student health coordinator said the decision because the number of cases and positive tests fell close to the line between moderate and low transmission risk. 

Two teacher advocacy groups in Chesterfield County -- Chesterfield Educators United and the Chesterfield Educators Association -- have called on school officials not to move forward with the plans, saying the district is going against its own guidelines

“The overwhelming response was that people did not feel adequately prepared,” said CEA President Sonia Smith. 

Some school staff who are part of Chesterfield Educators United, held a press conference on Friday to lay out their recommendations for how the county can make them feel safer.

“What we're asking the district to do is to put a pause on the return of cohorts for in person learning to reassess whether we need to pull one, two or three of the first cohorts back out based on VDH [Virginia Department of Health] metrics,”  Emma Clark of Chesterfield Education United said. “To truly commit to themselves and commit to us because they've at this point, really broken our trust that they really aren't going to abide by those metrics.”

Clark stopped short of asking fellow teachers to call out sick today, but said every teacher has a right to ask for sick leave. 

“No teacher wants to do a sick out unless they know that it's not going to hurt the kids in any way. And that's very hard to assure,” Clark told VPM in an interview prior to Friday’s press conference.

Clark also said she plans not to go into work today--a move she said could lead to her termination and the revocation of her teacher’s license for a year. She added that she is also in communication with lawyers to explore her options going forward.

Concerns highlighted by survey respondents include that proper cleaning protocols are not being followed, there's a lack of personal protective equipment and supplies and the difficulties of managing both the virtual and physical learning environments

In an email response to VPM about a possible sick-out, school district spokesperson Shawn Smith said: 

“If an employee does not report on Monday and calls in sick unexpectedly, we are asking the employee to bring a doctor’s note when they report on Tuesday (per School Board Policy 5230 (G))”

Smith also said employees who are anxious about returning to a hybrid model of teaching should call the employee assistance hotline. 

Superintendent Merv Daugherty has said schools are taking all necessary steps. Earlier this week, during a virtual school district event, he said it's up to parents to make the decision to send their children to school.

“There’s people that want to come back to school and those who don’t want to come back until this pandemic is completely gone. We want to give you the options with this. We have an obligation to teach. And our goal is to make sure that it’s safe,” he said.  

Any student, parent or teacher who doesn’t feel safe, Daughtery says, should notify a principal or the district immediately.


Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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