Friday, August 12, 2022

Sights and Sounds: Teachers, parents protest at school board meeting as district debates reopening

The New Hanover County Board of Education decided instead to transition from Plan C (all virtual learning) to Plan B (a hybrid virtual-classroom model), following the recommendation of county health officials.

[Click photo for slideshow] Protestors outside the New Hanover Schools Board meeting held signs urging the district against a decision to open a full classroom model. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — A group of around 30 to 40 parents and teachers stood on the lawn outside the New Hanover County Schools Board of Education Center early Monday evening to protest a discussion to transition from all-virtual (Plan C) to all-classroom (Plan A) learning.

The board, meanwhile, opted against the move for now and instead chose a hybrid Plan B model after health department officials provided statistics that were absent during last week’s meeting. The district will also not yet allow K-5 students to return to a full classroom model, even after Governor Roy Cooper announced last week that it is now legal to do so.

RELATED: New Hanover Board of Education shifts to AA/BB plan, no full-time reopening yet

Minutes before the start of Monday’s 5 p.m. special meeting, Judy Justice walked up the front steps to the building’s entrance as some in the crowd shouted their support for the school board member. Justice provided the single vote against a Plan B option during a September 16 meeting, citing her concern that no data from the county’s health department was shared during the meeting. (New Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust previously told WHQR he would not make a recommendation without speaking to medical professionals; Foust later confirmed he had spoken with county health officials, but they had not appeared during the meeting or delivered a presentation.)

Elizabeth Budd, a second-grade teacher at Murrayville Elementary School, stood in the center of the crowd of protestors, where she said she was acting as a “voice to represent teachers of the county against Plan A.”

“We have to think of the safety of not just our students but also our staff as well, and then our community — where we’re spreading this to,” Budd said. “When we’re put in a classroom all together, things are going to happen, especially with children who don’t quite understand social distancing guidelines and don’t even understand personal hygiene at this point,” Budd said.

For many teachers, choosing between the profession they are passionate about and their own health — many of whom are vulnerable to Covid-19 — is a difficult and unfair decision, according to Budd. Although the district will one day reopen their classrooms to all students again on a Plan A model, she said a more solidified plan is needed before this occurs.

She said more specific plans are needed on how staff will handle personal protective equipment (PPE), how staff can take off work if they need to, and ensuring the budget will allow for all necessary cleaning supplies and the cleaning staff to use them.

“As of now, teachers come in 45 minutes to an hour before school begins just to scan kids and prepare the school, and that’s not part of our job description,” Budd said. “We’re going to do it because that’s what we have to do, but we need to have everything in place so that we can do this and not over-exhaust our staff.”

Mary Whitehead, standing with a North Carolina Association of Educators poster, said she has a child who is a senior at a New Hanover school. Although her son is excited to return to the classroom in the Plan B hybrid model, she has told him Plan B isn’t what he thinks it will be.

“It’s not going to be regular school. I think a lot of the community wants it to just go away, and it’s like, ‘Wake up.’ It’s a pandemic; we all have to do our part,” Whitehead said.

LISTEN: Mary Whitehead, left, urged the community not to “wish [the pandemic] away” and follow the science. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Sheri Ulcakova, the mother of three New Hanover County students, said, “Well, I’m here because I want to see President Trump put [his son] Barron in school,” Ulcakova said. “When he puts Barron in school, that’s when I’ll send my kids to school. How ’bout that?”

She said she caught Covid-19 a week after she was mandated to return to work in late-May as a hairdresser because her employer received a PPE loan. The loan required ‘essential employees’ to return to their jobs in different phases.

“By June 1, I had full-blown Covid. I was down for three weeks, and Covid cost me approximately $4,500. I am now behind in my rent; I can hardly stay above water at this time. What’s the point? If we send the kids back to school and many more people will get sick. Covid’s no joke,” Ulcakova said.

She said one of her three kids who are enrolled in the county’s school system was tested for Covid-19 on Sunday. Her child goes to Wilmington School of the Arts.

“They’ve been in school now for four weeks, and in those four weeks, we missed two weeks due to Covid scares,” she said.

LISTEN: Sheri Ulcakova said the county should remain on a Plan C model until the entire country’s Covid-19 case numbers fall to an acceptable level. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

View more pictures below:

County teachers arrive at the board meeting to protest a potential move to reopen the district’s schools. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

A woman holds up a sign urging NHCS board members to look out for the safety of the district’s students. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

A teacher holds up a sign to show the potential spread of schools to nearby communities. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

Protestors arrive at a special meeting called by the New Hanover County Board of Education early Monday evening. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

Some chairs remain empty due to the 25-person maximum limit because of Covid-19. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

Send tips and comments to the reporter at mark@localdailymedia.com

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