During last Monday’s board meeting, Cabarrus County Board of Education member Laura Blackwell was caught on Zoom saying “This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen.“
The comment was made privately to Board Chair Rob Walter, who ignored the use of an appalling term educators have spent decades trying to remove from the educational setting and instead agreed with Blackwell’s criticism of remote instruction during the pandemic.
The policy requires that board members “model civility to students, employees and all elements of the community by encouraging the free expression of opinion by all board members and engaging in respectful dialogue with fellow board members on matters being considered by the board.”
At 4 pm, the Cabarrus Association of Educators is holding a “Rally to End the Word” outside the Cabarrus County Education Center (4401 Old Airport Rd. Concord, NC 28026). Overflow parking will be available at the nearby Cabarrus Arena.
Cabarrus Association of Educators has released the following statement about the matter:
Educators have learned to conduct themselves as professionals, even outside of the classroom, knowing that the eyes of the community are always upon them. We have the right to expect a similar high standard from our elected officials especially during a professional meeting.
The lack of decorum demonstrated at several board meetings and the inappropriate language used shows an utter disregard for the position held, the opinions of others and the community represented. Trust has been broken between the community and the board of education. Serious steps need to be taken in order to restore that trust.
Michelle Rengert President – Cabarrus Association of Educators
Blackwell posted an apology for the comment, which she made about the district’s reopening plans to board chair Rob Walter when she didn’t realize the Zoom meeting was still being broadcast to listeners.
In her apology, Blackwell attributed her use of the degrading term to her “immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community,” then quickly pivoted to victim mode:
I want to take this opportunity to address the very unfortunate incident that took place at last night’s school board meeting. During one of the breaks, my microphone remained on and comments that were made in private suddenly became very public. Whether in private or public, I acknowledge my comments were insensitive and inappropriate. I allowed my immense passion for the welfare of our children and for serving this community to manifest itself through emotion and frustration. Although I never intended to offend anyone, I do realize that my words had the potential to cause pain and reinforce a negative stereotype. I deeply regret my choice of words and I sincerely apologize to anyone that I may have offended.
The last 12 hours have been some of the most difficult of my life. I have received messages that have both questioned my integrity and my character. However, not to be overshadowed by hatred and political posturing, there has been an overwhelming amount of loving support from so many of you that know my heart and believe in the work that we are trying to accomplish together. Because of each of you, tomorrow morning I will dust myself off and get right back to serving this community, our students, our amazing faculty and staff members and this county with the same level of passion as I had on day one.
In response to Blackwell’s offensive speech, the Special Olympics of Cabarrus County released a statement that noted the harm caused by stereotyping people with developmental and intellectual disabilities:
Many listeners have noted that Chair Rob Walter agreed with the essence of Blackwell’s comments and did not offer any pushback whatsoever on her use of a word that educators have worked hard to erase from educational settings.
Walter, who is currently running for reelection, has said the board will review the incident and related policies and will deal with the matter at the next school board meeting if any further action is required.
In a September 21 letter sent to Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore and her core team, the Wake County Division of Principals and Assistant Principals expressed serious reservations about the feasibility of returning to in-person instruction on October 26.
A whopping 90.9% of administrators surveyed preferred a second semester return.
Even those who indicated they felt a late October return could be accomplished felt that additional supports needed to be put in place before it happened.
Those advocating for a delay until the end of the first semester felt the additional time would allow for COVID numbers to further decrease and for schools to better adapt instruction to a challenging hybrid model.
Below are some comments from the survey.
The entire letter is posted at the end of this article.
Teachers, students, and families need stability. For high schools, it is extremely challenging for teachers to re-design their curriculum multiple times to adjust from a brick and mortar to an online setting. If we transition again in the middle of a semester, teachers will need to navigate their curriculum again and figure out how to teach in both worlds (VA and in-person setting). I am highly concerned that this change will push them over the edge. Please allow high schools to remain online for the Fall semester.
I am very worried about what to do when we need a sub and do not have a sub. Have you collected data on how many staff members at each school have quarantine themselves because of an exposure? I lost count. Child care is also a big issue with our staff.
I believe returning in January would give Fall VA families and potentially full-time VA families an opportunity to return to F2F with confidence. It also provides a smoother transition for staffing, as I need the Fall VA teachers to be in whatever F2F rotation or full return we have. I simply cannot staff any form of F2F without the return of Fall VA teachers to a F2F model. Teacher assignment changes will definitely occur if we return prior to January, and we really don’t have the allotments needed to do this sooner. Stability for families should be considered as important as Safety.
I imagine YR schools would also fare better because returning to assigned tracks is more feasible at the end of first semester.
I think that returning to school during the month of October is too soon. I don’t believe that we will have enough time to properly prepare for our students to return. We have not received specific guidelines on what school will look like and what the safety measures truly consist of. Teachers will have to replan and adjust many lessons in order for them to provide instruction in person as well as online. I am also very concerned that transportation services needs will not be at the forefront. I can foresee many delays and lots of confusion. There are always hiccups and the beginning of the school year and due to the circumstances and student cohorts, I worry about safety and efficiency.
I think that the biggest issues are going to be transportation and substitutes. I do not believe that social distancing is going to be possible on buses. Also, when teachers get Covid (which they will- either from school or from the community) what are we going to do about substitutes?) We have a teacher out right now with Covid- but she can teach from her house because of remote learning- that won’t be possible if students are in school unless there is additional supervision.
They say Zoom mute button fails are the new accidental “reply all.” That would certainly seem to be the case for Cabarrus County Board of Education member Laura Blackwell, who was overheard by Monday night’s board meeting listeners using incredibly inappropriate language.
As the meeting went to recess, Blackwell referred to the board’s Vice Chair Barry Shoemaker as a “douchebag,” in a comment at :24 of this clip:
A few minutes later, as the meeting got ready to resume, Blackwell said to Chairman Rob Walter “This is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen” in an apparent reference to the district’s current remote learning practices.
Walter appeared to agree with the essence of Blackwell’s comments and said nothing to push back on her use of the term “retarded”:
Both Blackwell and Walter need to understand that the word “retarded” is one that is deeply offensive to many, but perhaps most of all to professional educators who believe that all of our children can learn and work tirelessly to make that happen.
Federal use of the term ended more than a decade ago after the passage of Rosa’s Law, named for 9 year old Rosa Marcellino. Rosa suffers from Down Syndrome and, along with her family, was able to get legal references to “mental retardation” changed to “intellectual disability” in an effort to extend dignity to those who struggle with disabilities.
The Cabarrus County Board of Education voted 4-3 to send grade K-3 students back to school next month. Grades 4-12 will begin in-person classes at the same time under Plan B.
A group of Charlotte Mecklenburg education advocates has launched an effort to help raise funds for students who lack access to the high speed internet which has become so essential to K-12 education during the COVID19 pandemic.
The screen printing project celebrates the creativity and resilience of North Carolina’s educators and students who have transitioned to online learning through T-shirts that deem them “Virtually Unstoppable.”
According to the CMS Foundation, more than 16,000 households with CMS students don’t have access to the internet. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has committed $1 million to providing hotspots for those families. The Foundation has set a goal of raising $3.2 million to ensure 12 months of internet service for anyone receiving a hotspot.
In a nod to a year like no other, Virtually Unstoppable shirts are available for $20.20, with 100% of proceeds (roughly 75% of the cost) going to the CMS Foundation’s effort.
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