Chatham schools closed May 1, citing large number of absences ahead of rally

Posted 5/3/19

PITTSBORO — Chatham County Schools followed many of its nearby public school district brethren earlier this week, with the Chatham County Board of Education voting unanimously April 25 to close …

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Chatham schools closed May 1, citing large number of absences ahead of rally

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PITTSBORO — Chatham County Schools followed many of its nearby public school district brethren earlier this week, with the Chatham County Board of Education voting unanimously April 25 to close school for students on May 1.

In a press release, board chairman Gary Leonard said the number of employees requesting leave for May 1, the scheduled date of a teacher march and rally in downtown Raleigh, and the “potential for last-minute requests due to emergencies or illnesses” enacted a “compelling need” to not hold classes that day. May 1 was to be an optional workday for staff.

“We would prefer to have a normal day of school, but we simply would not have enough personnel on hand to ensure that our classrooms are adequately staffed,” Leonard said. “That being said, we remain committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and continue to support our system of public education and the work of our dedicated employees.”

During the emergency meeting April 25, district Superintendent Derrick Jordan said a flurry of personal leave requests were submitted in the prior days. He said there were “as many as 30” in one school and at least 19 in another. One school had nine bus drivers that submitted leave requests.

“We noted a potential challenge fulfilling the number of substitute positions that would be required,” Jordan said. “The challenge that presents is that we have almost 50, as of today, unfilled substitute requests, and that does not take into account the possibility of the issuing of emergency requests that could happen closer to the day or on the day of.”

The district joined Lee, Chapel-Hill Carrboro, Durham, Guilford, Orange, Wake and several other public school systems across the state as being closed for students on May 1. The N.C. Association of Educators set the date for its rally, encouraging teachers across the state to take a personal leave day to ask state legislators for improved funding, expansion of Medicaid and more support personnel like nurses and counselors, among other reasons.

CCS’ press release said the number of absences not covered by substitute teachers was “initially manageable,” but an increase in requests this week made the change necessary. The release also stated the missing class day will not be made up “because the district’s academic calendar exceeds the number of instructional hours required by North Carolina law.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson came out against the timing of the rally in early April, and the Chatham school board had discussed possibly closing at its April 8 meeting.

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