Sunday, June 4, 2023

After reports of Trask quarantine, 60 Pender teachers refuse in-class instruction

On Friday, the Pender County School district announced 24 system employees had been quarantined. Heide Trask High School will start with two weeks of remote learning, a last-minute decision prompted by the quarantine and staffing shortages. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Heide Trask High School)

PENDER COUNTY — A coalition of about 60 Pender County School teachers sent a letter to the Board of Education on Friday afternoon — less than three days before the start of the fall semester — stating they would not report for in-classroom instruction on Monday out of fears that it would further spread the coronavirus.

The letter was composed in response to Tuesday’s Board meeting, but its delivery was hastened by reports that there was a considerable number of teachers at Heide Trask High who had been quarantined.

Hours later, the school district issued a statement “in regards to a schedule change” for the school. The high school will start the fall semester using only online learning instruction, it announced, delaying until August 28 the ‘Plan B’ option that staggers classroom and virtual instruction for the district. The decision came “after a careful review of staffing needs and the ability to fill vacancies,” according to the release.

The district said 24 Heide Trask employees would be unavailable to teach in-person on Monday due to recent Covid-19 exposures and “previously requested leave.” It did not specify how many of this group had been exposed. Before the announcement, Pender County Health Carolyn Moser said approximately 10 of the school’s employees were exposed.

“All of these resulted from one positive case,” she said, adding that PCS “understands the importance of getting kids back into a school setting.”

“They have done everything to prepare for those kids and staff, to provide a safe setting in compliance with all the state and federal requirements,” she said.

PCS Superintendent Steven Hill discusses the one-day delay of classroom instruction with the Board of Education on Friday night. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy PCS)

The Board then called for an emergency meeting at 8 p.m. Friday night, where it voted for a “delayed Plan B” option for the entire district (aside from Pender Early College) — but a delay of only one day, a “soft opening” that would see students come to class on Tuesday. PCS Superintendent Steven Hill said the reason for the short delay was due to “staff still working through changes to students’ schedules as they have to adjust to students requesting online courses.”

“In the past 48 hours there have been 241 requests to go online,” he told the Board.

But over the course of the 14-minute meeting, neither Hill nor the Board at any time mentioned the letter sent by the coalition of teachers. A second release issued after the meeting contradicted the original suggestion that the teacher shortage was partially due to previously requested time off, saying that “PCS reported 24 exposures and/or symptoms to the Pender Health Department” with no mention of requests for leave of absence.

Letter from teachers

The letter was sent by a group identified as ‘Concerned Teachers of Pender County’ who said they “are unable in good conscience to fulfill our duties as mandated” by county guidelines and the state’s Code of Ethics, under the Plan B conditions outlined by the Board of Education earlier this week.

“[W]e have collectively concluded that we are not yet prepared to move forward with Plan B,” the teachers stated.

The teachers requested a meeting to be held no later than the end of Monday to consider moving all of the county’s K-12 students to Plan C for a least nine weeks, in order “to ensure adequate time to prepare for face-to-face instruction.” The governor’s Plan C option allows schools to begin their fall semesters by providing 100-percent virtual instruction.

According to the letter received by Port City Daily on Friday afternoon, those concerns include a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for teachers and staff.

“As of noon on August 13th, no sanitation or PPE has been distributed to staff,” the letter states.

Late Friday night, PCS said that “[p]rotective supplies and equipment, which arrived late Friday, are going out to schools over the weekend.”

“PCS would like staff members to orient to these new resources and be better prepared to discuss safety procedures with students prior to students entering the front door opening day,” according to the district’s statement.

The letter also addressed an issue brought up during Tuesday’s Board meeting: thermometers ordered to screen student temperatures were quarantined in California.

“We are underprepared to handle the screening volume with our limited supply of thermometers,” they stated.

Additionally, the teachers state that bus drivers are not required to screen students for temperature checks when they board a bus, placing everyone on board at risk.

Pender Board of Education member Beth Burns said she was unable to comment, directing questions to the district’s spokesperson. PCS spokesman Alex Riley did not reply to repeated emails and phone calls on Friday afternoon requesting the district’s response to the teachers’ letter and list of concerns.

Other areas of concern listed in the letter include (the full list can be read in the second document posted at the bottom of this article) :

  • No built-in time to the daily schedule to sanitize desks between classes;
  • No ability to ensure adequate hand-washing with the current resources available;
  • CDC recommendations to open doors to provide adequate ventilation conflicts with teachers’ ALICE training for active shooters and natural disaster guidelines;
  • School facility rentals expose buildings to unnecessary contact with untraceable visitors;
  • ABM (a national facility management company) reports being at 75% capacity with an increased workload of 50%. “It is our opinion that they are unable to handle the sanitary workload;”
  • Schools should have periodic Covid-19 testing enforced for staff and students to control asymptomatic outbreaks;
  • Insufficient plans for when a teacher or student tests positive, risking an outbreak by the time a positive test is confirmed;
  • No plans for when a student misses a week of in-person learning due to quarantine or other health issues;
  • No possibility that the Pender County Health Department can adequately trace contacts for the entire county: “Contact tracing during class changes is impossible;”

Read the letter from ‘Concerned Teachers of Pender County’ to the Board of Education, along with the group’s attached list of concerns and questions, below:

Letter to the Board of Education

Pender County Teachers’ Covid-19 Concerns

Send tips and comments to the reporter at or (970) 413-3815

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