Two weeks before elementary schools plan to reopen, teachers call for more safety measures

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Board of Education met Tuesday evening as teachers called for more safety measures before reopening elementary schools.

Currently, elementary school students are set to begin Plan A full-time in-person learning January 19.

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The New Hanover County Association of Educators (NHCAE) has put forth a list of demands before they will support the reopening plans.

“The main thing that we really really need is that six feet of social distancing, because we know that that’s one of the best ways to stop the spread,” said sixth grade teacher Kaleigh Pare.

In addition to the six feet of distancing, the association is calling for full transparency regarding infections rates and viral spread within school buildings.

“With the lack of that data saying we had five people that were infected in the school versus five people that came into the school that were infected, it’s a completely different story,” said NHCAE president and teacher Amanda White.

NHCAE also wants the board to make Wednesdays remote learning days to allow for cleaning, and establish an educator/staff advisory council to bring recommendations to the board and administration.

White says the goal is to prevent an outbreak within schools, which has been seen in other areas. In December, Town Creek Elementary School in Leland saw more than 30 cases, which NHCAE is calling a superspreader event. She says statewide, eight educators have died from COVID-19 since July.

“We’ve seen districts that have gone on to Plan A, an educator dies, and the entire school system shuts down for two weeks,” White said.

Another concern about reopening elementary schools this month is that teachers have not yet been vaccinated. Most teachers will fall under Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination rollout plan.

One parent and former teacher disagrees that this should be a priority.

“To leave out the 80-year-old people like my parents, and vaccinate healthy teachers, I’m worried about that,” said Carrie Alkins.

Alkins, who had to leave her teaching job to oversee her son remote learning, believes it’s time for kids to get back into the classroom.

“This is affecting their lives, this is almost a year now,” she said. “Studies show kids are not spreading this, kids are not dying from this.”

On the other hand, if NHCAE’s requests are not granted by the board White says there could be consequences.

“We’re trying to help them come up with solutions, we’re trying to be on their side,” she said. “But if they’re just unwilling to listen and unwilling to allow us to help, then what they’re going to get is educators not there to help the children. That’s what they’re going to get.”

Board of Education Vice-Chair Nelson Beaulieu reacted to the teachers’ requests late Tuesday night following the meeting.

“Their concerns are my concerns, and the concerns of the parents who call and say ‘my kid is really hurting right now, they need to be back in school,’ those are my concerns,” he said. “Every single one of the 26,000 students that we have is a concern. I definitely understand the fear and the apprehension, I’m not insensitive to it in any way. That’s part of the reason we pushed that date back originally.”

Beaulieu says on the morning of Wednesday January 13, the board will hold a special meeting to get a thorough COVID-19 update and discuss how to make the reopening as safe as possible.