‘Why are we playing with people’s lives?’ Union Co. teachers want remote start to school year

Some teachers say they are being forced to choose between their livelihoods and their lives

“Why are we playing with people’s lives?” Union County teachers want remote start to the school year

UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Teachers are joining together and calling for the Union County Public School system to switch to all-remote learning for the start of the year.

In mid-July, the superintendent announced the school system would choose Plan B, which sends students to school one day a week on a rotating schedule, and the rest will be remote.

But it means Union County teachers are essentially at the school full-time, seeing students everyday.

Teachers and UCPS staff say going back to school this way is putting their health at risk and endangering the families of UCPS students.

There have been two clusters of COVID-19 already reported in Union County this summer. One is still active, with six staff members testing positive at East Union Middle School.

The teachers, who decided to speak to WBTV under the condition of anonymity, said they’re nervous there will be more clusters as soon as school starts in just a few weeks.

“We all want to be back, but not when it’s not safe,” said one of the teachers.

The other’s nodded in agreement. They all say this comes down to safety. They would all much rather teach in person, but don’t want to risk their lives.

“Why, why are we playing with people’s lives? With people’s livelihoods? With people’s children?,” an unnamed teacher said.

This group of teachers say their concerns also come from thinking of their student’s families. They say many kids live full time with grandparents.

Even if the students don’t get sick, because of the low chance of children getting the virus, they could spread it to other family members.

“We don’t know their situation, or their health. If I’m sending home a child who is now come to school and got infected, they might not get sick, but their grandparents might,” one teacher said. “That’s not just a health issue, that could end up being a social emotional issue.”

Teachers tell WBTV it felt like they were given two options - come back to school or resign.

“You have your arms twisted. Making a decision is like making it at gun point. It’s like do or die. Literally do or die,” one said.

In a statement to WBTV, the Union County Public Schools said partially in a statement that “employees with concerns are still encouraged to contact their supervisor or the Human Resources Department for discussions about an alternate work plan.”

But teachers say they’re already short on all staff members, including substitutes, so they don’t see that as being a true option.

When it comes to being in the school, these teachers say their health is at risk.

They detailed faulty HVAC systems, windows that couldn’t open and not enough custodial staff for them to feel comfortable inside the school five days a week.

“We know we’re understaffed with custodial workers, there’s no way they can sanitize every surface,” said another teacher. “I can’t teach if I’m worrying about catching a fatal virus.

That’s why they’re calling on UCPS to start the school year remotely.

The group ‘Plan C for UC’ formed a few weeks ago when UCPS decided they would do Plan B.

They are a group of employees, teachers and concerned parents who are pushing for the district to change their plan. They started a petition, which has more than 1,000 signatures.

They want to school district to opt for Plan C instead, which would have every students and staff member start the school year doing virtual learning.

“Make no mistake, I don’t know a single educator that doesn’t want to be with their students and doesn’t want to be in their classrooms. But it’s just a matter of when it’s safe to do that.”

Another reason why teachers are pushing for Plan C is that they feel like they can better educate them remotely.

This group of teachers says it would be better to focus on the best remote learning option, instead of worrying about taking temperatures and making sure students stay distanced.

“I worry about how effective we’re going to between we have so much anxiety and worry,” one teacher said.

Teachers said their voice and their concerns weren’t taken into consideration when UCPS made the decision for Plan B.

Of the five teachers interviewed, only one said they received a survey talking about back to school plans.

In the statement from UCPS, they said “UCPS received feedback from employees through a number planning teams that were represented by Central Services staff, principals, administrators and PAC (Professional Advisory Council), which consist of teachers from each school that guided planning.”

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