Caldwell Teachers: ‘We aren’t Ready’

With classes set to begin Monday, reports of chaos and anger emerge

LENOIR, N.C. — Several Caldwell County School System teachers, speaking in confidence to the The Lenoir Voice, say the school system is not ready to begin classes tomorrow. From central office staff allegedly giving teachers a tongue-lashing for merely asking questions to computer and Internet programs that nobody has been trained on because the licences are not effective until Monday, the school system is in chaos as it prepares to open schools tomorrow on a blended schedule of in-class and remote (Internet) learning, say several teachers.

The decision to send children to school coincides with a report from the CDC that COVID-19 cases are steadily increasing in children.

We got yelled at by the elementary curriculum director for two hours for asking her questions and communicating with parents and causing them to ask her questions. She said none of this will matter after the election because we will all be back in the school.” — Caldwell County School Teacher

The stress of this is boiling over, say multiple teachers. Several reported alleged unprofessional conduct by Dr. Lesa Widener, Federal Programs Director, during a Zoom call this past Wednesday. One teacher said, “We got yelled at by the elementary curriculum director for two hours for asking her questions and communicating with parents and causing them to ask her questions. She said none of this will matter after the election because we will all be back in the school.” Another reported, “Teachers were in tears and some were threatening to quit.”

Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps said the allegations were news to him. He replied, “I have attempted to address every concern brought to me by CCS team members, but the concerns you allege have not previously been brought to my attention. I will look into them.” 

Additionally, numerous teachers are complaining about multiple problems with the lack of readiness for new computer and Internet programs. One said, “We aren’t ready. None of our program licenses start until Monday so we don’t know how any of that works.” Another shared, “We don’t have class lists in PowerSchool. (the program that we use to record grades and attendance).” Another referred to several other computer and online programs that are not activated, and for which teachers, students and families are not prepared to use.

We asked for responses to those assertions by today’s 11 a.m. deadline. Also, citing the North Carolina Public Records Law, we requested access to the audio or video recording of the meeting from Wednesday. Finally, regarding the numerous computer and Internet programs that teachers referenced, we asked that they be explained so that the average citizen could understand them absent knowledge of the educational jargon.

To these requests, Phipps replied, “I will not be able to do that, or respond to your records request, in the time frame you suggest.” (Since I sent the questions just yesterday, I asked when it will be convenient to access the recording. I have also asked to visit a school to observe and report upon compliance to the school system’s safety plan. We await replies to both requests).

In response to a question if they are aware of the CDC report that COVID-19 cases are steadily increasing in children and if it changed their thinking about having in-person classes, Phipps answered,As far as our plans and direction, we are following the guidance provided from various sources. We have been engaged with state and local medical professionals throughout the process.”

One teacher isn’t convinced. “The really bad thing is that parents who picked to send their kids back to school don’t know what they are sending them back to. I was straightforward with my parents. I told them that their kids would be in their assigned seats six feet away from everyone including the teacher all day. They will eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom and the only time they can take their mask off is to eat. They will have art, music, computers, and library in their assigned seats. PE will be outside unless it is raining or too cold then it will be in their assigned seats in the classroom. I struggle to wear a mask for longer than an hour. How are our kids to do it seven or more?”

One question remained ignored by Board of Education members. One teacher shared, “I blame the Board of Education that could have kept teachers working a week early but not the students. Or if it’s about numbers, they could have arranged for remote instruction for students (of course the license issue would have needed to be in place) while allowing teachers a couple of weeks to problem solve and train for all that is being thrown at us.”

We asked the board members to respond to this complaint and suggestion. None replied.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2020.


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