Teachers still on ‘optional’ workdays, some may work remotely

North Carolina Association of Educators. (Photo: Matt Bennett/WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The North Carolina Association of Educators or NCAE is raising concerns that teachers are being forced to report to work during the ongoing pandemic. They say this leaves them unable to care for children at home and potentially exposes them to coronavirus.

NCAE member Chris Meek believes school districts should be doing more to protect employees.

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“To require teachers to come into work and risk becoming infected or a carrier of a disease that’s killing thousands of people worldwide, I think is a little bit unreasonable,” Meek said.

New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Columbus, and Bladen County Schools all have issued similar statements saying they are following the guidelines of the governor’s Executive Order 117.

They are operating on optional workdays, meaning employees must come to work or use a paid vacation day or unpaid day off.

Some educators can work remotely on a case-by-case basis, but Meek says not every job allows this.

“There are so many educators in our system who cannot work remotely, and you’re still asking them to come in and put themselves on the line,” Meek said. “Really, I think that they don’t want to spend the money, that money is more important than the welfare of their employees.”

Here are statements from each school district:

New Hanover: “For the duration of Executive Order 117, NHCS is operating on optional work days for all full and part-time employees. Executive Order 117 and guidance of state health officials have encouraged employers and employees to use remote work technologies to the greatest extent possible. NHCS principals and supervisors will work with staff to determine if any team members can utilize working remotely while continuing to effectively perform all duties.”

Brunswick: BCS is currently operating on ‘optional work day’ status per guidance of NCDPI.  We are operating on a case by case situation for staff who request to work from home.  If they provide a reason to work from home, we have flexibility to offer that right now.  They discuss their plan of action to carry out their assigned responsibilities with their supervisor and if approved, document their work time from home.  They can also of course use leave during this challenging timeframe.  We are continuously meeting and having conversations to adjust as more guidance is received from the state.

Here what is the current bullet points for this week to staff:
  • Following the guidance of NC Department of Public Instruction, all days this week through March 20th will now be optional work days for all staff.   Essential staff(administrators, custodians, maintenance operations personnel, office staff, and school nurses) should report to work unless sick.  Specific department instructions will be coming from your supervisor.
  • Employees considered ‘at-risk’ by the CDC(those over the age of 60, those with underlying health conditions, etc) should consider working from home. Make sure to notify your supervisor if you will be working from home.
  • All staff are reminded at work to practice social distancing and to stay home should they feel sick.
  • These optional work days will allow for more flexibility for staff, ensure continuity of pay,  and will allow for buildings to be adequately cleaned each day.
  • Please check with your supervisor for specific work schedule. 
  • This is an evolving scenario and we will make adjustments as we receive additional guidance from the state and of course update you asap.  We will be able to answer more questions in the days to come.”

Pender: “Per the Governor’s Executive Order, all Pender County Schools staff is still in work status and eligible to be paid. All certified staff who can perform duties from home have been given the opportunity to do so if they have signed a telework agreement. All classified staff who are able to perform duties from home have also been given the telework agreement as well. Any classified staff who are not able to perform their duties from home have been assigned various work opportunities so they can remain in work status. At this time, all Pender County Schools facilities are open to staff. Additionally, any staff that does not wish to take advantage of work opportunities has the ability to take appropriate leave.”

Columbus: Columbus County Schools has a teleworking policy, and any staff member who needs to work from home can apply during this time period, and we’ve already had several approved.”

Bladen: Our district is following the Governor’s Executive Order and direction from the NC Department of Public Instruction. The order reads as follows:

This Executive Order contemplates that public school facilities be closed as instructional settings for K-12 students. Under Section 2 of Executive Order 117 and consistent with direction from and consultation with the Office of the Governor, weekdays between March 16 to March 30, 2020, are to be designated by default as “optional teacher workdays” for employees. All staff remain in work status and are eligible to be paid. Local boards of education have the flexibility to designate days during the school closure period as mandatory teacher workdays or annual leave days. School districts may also exercise their local authority and rearrange their school calendar and designate days as annual leave days as needed.
Our district is in the process of developing plans for telework beyond the Governor’s March 30 executive order.”


We have also reached out to Whiteville City Schools, but have not yet heard back.