COVID fears of Union County educators fall on deaf ears at board meeting

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At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Union County Board of Education, local educators showed up to make the case that reopening for in-person instruction is too risky given the county’s high COVID infection rates.

Their comments fell on deaf ears.

Union County’s percent positive test rate is hovering around 10%, which is double the CDC Director’s recommended level for districts to consider opening for students.

Pam Carlton, president of Union County Association of Educators (UCAE), rose to present survey data she and her colleagues collected on employee comfort level with returning to in-person instruction. Ms. Carlton was cut off before she could finish–despite board policy which allows representatives of groups extended speaking time.

The data UCAE collected shows that more than 83% of Union County Public Schools employees would prefer opening schools in Plan C, fully remote instruction.

Of survey respondents, only 8.6% said they were comfortable with Union County’s current return to work plan.

Local educators Sophia Stephenson and Brittany Gendron also spoke on behalf of educators who are concerned about their own safety and that of their students.

Stephenson referred to the current plan as “Russian roulette.” Gendron told the board she was prepared during lockdowns to take a bullet for her students and that “COVID is a bullet we can see coming. It’s already here.”

Board chair Melissa Merrell and her colleagues were unmoved by the comments and showed no sign of budging on the district’s plan to open to students on August 17. Merrell noted that “it was a decision handed down by the governor for Plan B” but did not mention that Governor Cooper’s approach allows for communities hit hard by COVID to open in Plan C.

Over half of North Carolina’s 115 school districts have opted to open in some form of remote learning.

As Union County’s board meeting ended, Brittany Gendron was overcome with emotion and broke down, saying “83 percent of staff want Plan C. You won’t even consider it?”

The official Union County Public Schools livestream quickly cut off, but the moment was captured by a WBTV reporter:

7 thoughts on “COVID fears of Union County educators fall on deaf ears at board meeting

  1. The UCPS board not only presented a rude and combative demeanor but also misread and manipulated statistics. My colleague and I have drafted a document rebutting these misconceptions (with sources) Our document also chronicles one board member not wearing a mask for 22 minutes (photos and video) and a tearful rant from Chairperson Merrill about the county commission’s refusal to listen to her arguments for a bond proposal. That is how teachers feel now except nobody dies from a rejected bond proposal

  2. I cried watching this. How many teachers, school nurses, coaches, and school staff members will we have for the 2021/2022 school year, if we treat them like this now? Wrong on many levels, in my opinion.

  3. The extreme indifference and arrogance towards the UC teachers right is quite frankly disturbing. My sister is a teacher in a county in Georgia that is requiring 100% in person classes. I know the reality of what they’re facing right now. The fact that the school board would have the other goal to completely diminish and misrepresent the data shows their incompetence and indifference towards realities of what these teachers face day today.

    I personally am calling for the resignation of Melissa Merrill. Her actions and combative nature towards the teachers is apparent. She does not need to be in that position of authority.

  4. Thank you to these brave and selfless women who are fighting for the lives of thousands of staff and students. The UCPS board is 100% politically motivated and it’s truly inexcusable.

  5. That video! Security came and tapped her on the shoulder and motioned for her to follow when she started to cry!?! No compassion shown from BOE. She started to cry and they adjourned without comment? Oh my goodness!

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