Wake teacher, caregiver quits after district denies her request for remote work

Posted November 17, 2020 5:19 p.m. EST
Updated November 17, 2020 7:01 p.m. EST

A Wake County special education teacher had to make the hard choice of health and family over her students because she's worried about the potential spread of the coronavirus as students return to the classroom.

Susan Humbert says she resigned from Oberlin Middle School last week after the district denied her request to continue working remotely.

“It just made it feel like people’s lives are not as important as covering a carpool duty or a bus duty,” she said.

Humbert, who is 65, is the caregiver for her 93-year-old mother and a son with autism. All three of them are in high-risk categories for COVID. But, even with a doctor's note to support her request, the Wake County Public School System wanted her back in the classroom.

She had followed district policy, which allows “[Employees] who serve as the primary physical caretaker for an immediate family member who is at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 may submit a COVID-19 Temporary Job Modification Request."

"The position may be approved for telework if the employee’s essential job functions can be performed remotely," a district spokeswoman said in a statement.

The district says more than 1,800 teachers requested to work remotely. Most of them, 84%, were approved. Humbert, who had been teaching remotely since March, was among a group of 110 teachers that was given initial approval, but she was then told she'd have to teach in person.

“I was told it’s because they don’t have enough people to cover duties. It’s just not good," she said.

Her classroom was in a basement "where there is no ventilation, no windows that open. My room doesn’t even have a window,” she said.

“So many of the staff are afraid of COVID, and they’re afraid to say anything,” Humbert said.

She has found a new teaching job that will allow her to work remotely. So far, Wake County’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that no one at Oberlin Middle School has tested positive for the virus.

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