Education

'Back to school' bill causing conflict between Durham teachers, parents

Posted February 16, 2021 5:37 p.m. EST
Updated February 17, 2021 8:33 a.m. EST

— The Durham Public School Board has called an emergency meeting to come up with a plan if in-person learning is required by the state.

Senate Bill 37 could clear the governor's desk this week. It would allow districts just two weeks to prepare for the return of students to classrooms and would override the Durham decision to keep all students learning remotely through the end of the academic year.

A recent survey of Durham parents showed a 50/50 split on whether people think it is time to bring students back inside school buildings.

Some teachers believe it is a rushed move that could potentially risk their lives. “Personally, I feel betrayed," said Dare Kumolo-Johnson.

He loves his job, teaching math at Southern High School, but he calls the bill to bring students, teachers and staff back reckless and insensitive.

“It really saddens me because I always said this before becoming a teacher, how it feels like people don’t care. Now to me this was confirmation of that with all sincerity," said Kumolo-Johnson.

“We’re just gonna have to wait and see and continue to advocate for our teachers to receive vaccines," said Chip Sudderth, Durham Public Schools spokesman.

DPS, which was among the few districts to vote for remote learning the remainder of the school year, is now surveying parents and making plans for what’s to come.

“The more families that affirmatively choose remote learning and feel like remote learning is working for their family, the easier it will be for us to accommodate the students who want in-person learning," said Sudderth.

Some parents believe they’ve waited long enough and say their children need in-person learning.

“We’re seeing a great set back in social interaction. Their desire to be in school and to learn. It’s causing short-term and, I think, long-term problems as well," said George Hining, who has kindergartner and a third-grader.

“I just think this is hard for the kids. It’s like they can’t separate home from school right now," added Emily Nash who has two third graders.

Kumolo-Johnson said while he understands all of the parents' perspectives, he believes the voices of educators were completely excluded from the equation.

“They’re making the teachers at this point, you guys are going to be the sacrificial lambs for the economy of our society. And that’s not fair. It’s absolutely ludicrous," he said.

Another big concern is that social distancing guidelines for elementary schools will not require six feet of distance.

The Durham school board will outline specific back-to-class plans at a meeting on Thursday night. A final House vote on the bill could force the hand of districts like Durham as soon as Wednesday.

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