UCPS Teachers Concerned About Return To In-Person Learning

Share this:

UNION COUNTY – On Monday, January 11, Union County Public Schools resumed in-person instruction for all grade levels.  It’s a decision that has faced harsh criticism from some of Union County’s teachers who feel the Board of Education is ignoring key metrics that make a return to in-person schooling after the holidays unwise.

Unlike CMS, which began the school year fully remote, UCPS began the year on a hybrid model.  Students were divided into four cohorts; each cohort attended school in-person one day a week with all students remote on Fridays.  Over the course of the fall, UCPS gradually combined cohorts, increasing elementary attendance to two and then four days per week by the end of October while middle and high school students remained at two days a week

In December, The Washington Post reported that emerging data on contact tracing shows that COVID does not seem to spread much within schools when they require masks, urge social distancing, have good ventilation, and when community spread is low.  That article and others like it are often used to justify a return to in-person schooling, but UCPS teachers worry that the push to return to school immediately after the holidays is an unnecessarily risky move that places an unfair burden on UCPS teachers.

According to COVID ActNow, Union County is currently experiencing a “severe outbreak” of COVID-19 with a positive test rate close to 20%.  As infection rates continue to rise, UCPS teachers worry that little has been done to ensure the safety of themselves and their students.  “We were just reminded to practice the 3 W’s: Wash, Wait, and Wear,” says UCPS elementary art teacher Janice* when asked what changes the district has made to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  

Masked student in classroom
Making sure students follow appropriate safety measures often falls to teachers

The result is that much of the work of making sure students are safe falls continues to fall on teachers, who face real and insurmountable impediments to implementing measures that have been shown to prevent the spread of the virus.  “In elementary, it is impossible to socially distance,” continues Janice.  “My students are spaced about two feet apart from each other. My largest class is 28 students. There is not enough space in the classrooms to position all students 6 feet apart.”  If schools have managed to stay safe thus far, contends Janice, it’s mainly because of the hard work teachers put in day in and day out to ensure their students are following the 3 W’s and that their rooms are properly sanitized.

According to Janice, who is also a UCPS parent, that’s the problem: there is only so much teachers can do.  “I wholeheartedly trust my son’s teacher,” says Janice.  “I know she is doing everything she can to keep my son and his peers safe while they are in her classroom, but we can’t stand over every student to be sure they get every nook and cranny with the hand sanitizer or wash for the full 20 seconds. Students constantly adjust their masks and then touch things. I’ve seen my own students putting the ends of borrowed supplies to their mouth even with a mask on. While I trust that my coworkers are doing everything they can in their power to keep students safe, it isn’t always going to be enough.”

Moreover, all of these measures take time, and there has been no reprieve in the curriculum to accommodate the safety measures teachers are implementing.  “Teachers are still expected to teach the entire curriculum and in turn, students are expected to learn the entire curriculum,” says Janice.  “We are still testing at the same level we would without a pandemic and using it for accountability purposes. This places an unfair amount of stress on both students and teachers.” 

For Janice, it’s an added blow that teachers working so hard to make in-person learning work without the time, space, and resources to do so are often called “selfish” for suggesting remote learning.  “We are constantly being berated with talk of how selfish we are for considering only our own physical health and not the mental health of students. That simply isn’t true. Yes, our physical health is a concern, but we are also concerned about our students’ health, as well as the health of their families.”

It takes a toll, and Janice worries that such blatant disregard for the needs of teachers will have a dramatic impact on the teaching profession in the coming years.  “I don’t think enough teachers are talking about the mental and emotional toll this year is taking on us; therefore it is not being acknowledged by leadership and families.  One cannot pour from an empty cup, and many of us are feeling very empty right now. We feel the pressure to maintain rigorous academics, provide a healthy environment, all while continuing to build vital relationships, and nurturing our student’s social and emotional needs. In the midst of all this, we are letting ourselves and families fall by the wayside. We teach because we love our students and we want to give them the best we can, but many of us are feeling anxiety and depression trying to do it all.”

So what’s the solution?

Masked student sitting at computer
Janice argues that a period of remote learning makes sense given rising COVID numbers

“I think going virtual for a period of time would be the best course of action,” says Janice.  “However, for it to be successful, we would need the support of our community. It would be staying home as much as possible, not using it as time off to do activities, go places, and see people. It would mean buckling down for the sake of public health. I am concerned that not enough people would take it seriously enough to have a true impact, but going virtual would take the stress of sanitizing and monitoring social distancing and mask-wearing from teachers and allow us to focus on educating.”

“I would like to have our leadership and school board listen to their teachers,” continues Janice.  “I feel as though we are getting written off. They keep saying they are listening, but they are using the voices of small advisory boards that do not necessarily represent all teachers.  I watched our school board meeting on Tuesday, January 12, and it felt like most of the board members were complaining about hearing from us. We were advised to speak with our principals about our concerns. However, their hands are tied as well. They are just as much at the mercy of what our leadership and board advises them to do.”

* name changed to protect teacher’s identity

Share this:

Previous articleFirst Weddington Planning Board Of 2021
Next articleJim Weiland Honored With Distinguished “Dick O’Brien” Award
Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: marybeth@minthilltimes.com