'It's not safe': Wayne County teachers urge district to reconsider opening schools

Posted September 7, 2020 4:21 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2020 7:16 a.m. EDT

— Wayne County Public Schools is welcoming students back into the classrooms on Tuesday morning for part-time, in-person learning after three weeks of online instruction.

The district is requiring that schools conduct health screenings for students when they arrive to class. Masks are also required per guidance from the state.

While families and teachers have mixed emotions about returning to school during the pandemic, one group of educators met in front of Berkeley Mall in Goldsboro on Labor Day to show support for school employees who want to stay home.

“We are disappointed in the board’s inaction, and at this point we can only ask that WCPS employees make the best decision for the safety of themselves and their families," said Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators (WCAE) and a teacher at Norwayne Middle School.

Kilgore, who is infected with COVID-19 and missed Monday's rally, said she's concerned schools are opening too soon.

"We're already underfunded. We don't have enough custodians in our county, and this is just the cleaning aspect, I'm not even talking about transportation," she said. "We can't just throw them in a situation where we can't guarantee their safety."

Wayne County is the first public school in the area to navigate the transition from all-online instruction to Plan B, a part-remote, part in-person model that rotates kids in and out of school to create smaller class sizes.

Crysta Bell said her children, 13-year-old Chandler and 6-year-old Pipper, started the school year learning remotely from home. This week, they'll resume in-person learning for the first time since March, physically attending classes two days a week.

For Bell, the change is welcome.

"I'm at work all day, and my mom doesn't know technology too well, so it's hard for her to help them," Bell said. "I think it needs to be five days a week, because my kids aren't learning virtually."

The WCAE disagrees, saying the schools are not ready for that.

"It's just not safe right now," said Turquoise LeJeune Parker, a teacher who rallied with coworkers on Monday to keep learning virtual until coronavirus numbers improve.

"I came down with COVID 14 or 15 days ago," Kilgore said. "It blows my mind how it's gotten to this point."

Since mid-August, Wayne County Public Schools reported 14 cases of COVID-19 across six campuses.

Bell said she isn't worried to send her kids back to school, but she understands educators' concerns.

"Maybe they should get a little more time to prepare," she said. "I can do virtual for a little while so when they go back they get the best."

WRAL News reached out to Wayne County Public Schools but did not hear back.

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