Online petition calls for BOE to bring all students back

Posted 10/14/20

Following the Chatham County Schools Board of Education’s Sept. 23 decision to remain in Plan C through the end of the semester, many parents, students and residents across the district were …

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Online petition calls for BOE to bring all students back

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Following the Chatham County Schools Board of Education’s Sept. 23 decision to remain in Plan C through the end of the semester, many parents, students and residents across the district were dismayed by the decision.

One Chatham parent, Ashley Webster, did something about it — she created an online petition.

Created through the change.org platform shortly after the board’s decision to continue remote learning, the petition is titled, “Get our children back in the school building,” and set with a goal of 1,500 signatures. Webster's child attends Chatham Charter School, which is not under the Chatham County Schools district.

“‘Collectively Creating Success’? For who?” Webster wrote in the petition description, referencing CCS’ tagline in its logo. “Chatham County Board of Education is failing our children miserably. Our children are struggling on a daily basis with getting the education our tax dollars are paying for them to be in a school building and learning. It is time for we parents to take a stand and be the voice for our children to get them back in school.”

Since the petition’s creation, it’s garnered attention on social media and collected more than 1,300 signatures. In that time, the BOE also pivoted, deciding on Sept. 29 to approve in-person instruction under Plan B for Extended Content Standard E.C. students, PreK students and K-2 students and suggesting that even high school students could return to in-person learning before the Jan. 15 date decided the week before. At that meeting, the board also voted to allow for the resumption of extracurricular activities.

Together, those decisions were viewed by many proponents of in-person learning — including Webster — as a “partial success.”

Posting on the petition site Sept. 30, the morning after the board’s meeting, Webster said she’d emailed the petition signatures and comments to all the board members as well as CCS Superintendent Derrick Jordan, and that she’d received a reply from board chairperson Gary Leonard (the only board member to dissent on the Sept. 23 decision to remain in Plan C). While she said the decision to allow some students to return to the school buildings under Plan B was a start, she urged people to continue sharing the petition “to get all the children back in to school.”

“I spoke with several teachers and students that attended the meeting last night as well and they desperately want to get back in the classroom,” she wrote. “Students I spoke with said the work load is too much with interrupted instruction making it very difficult to learn anything. Some of the teachers are instructing to black screens with no communication with the children. How stressful and depressing is this?”

Several signers left comments stressing the importance of students being back in school.

“I’m signing because I can’t learn through a computer screen,” one signer, Cassie McKeithan wrote. “I NEED a TEACHER. I’ve never made a B in my life and now I’m failing classes.”

“My child is suffering because of this,” Stacey McVey, another signer, added. “Our children need to be with others their age. Working 2 jobs and trying to do virtual learning has taken its toll on my health. We need them back in school.”

Still, for as many folks in Chatham who want students back in school under Plan A or Plan B, others feel the district’s Sept. 29 decision was too hasty and potentially dangerous. Last week, the News + Record reported that reactions to the decision varied from parents devastated by the decision because their students weren’t in the groups selected to return under Plan B on Oct. 19, to parents disappointed with the board’s transparency and commitment to safety. Several supporters of CCS remaining under a remote learning plan cited concerns for teachers, who unlike students, are not able to opt for virtual work if they do not feel comfortable returning to in-person teaching. Teachers are only allowed to request the accommodation of working from home due to medical concerns authorized by a doctor.

“Remote school is imperfect,” CCS parent Corbie Hill wrote in a News + Record letter to the editor last week. “We all know that. What’s getting lost in the drive to reopen, however, is infection risk to staff, students, and the entire community — not to mention the logistical headaches of hybrid remote/in-person learning. The grass is not greener.”

At the BOE’s regular session meeting on Oct. 12, the board heard updates on COVID-19, ultimately deciding to create a timeline for other groups of students returning to school under Plan B at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Nov. 9. The board indicated that Nov. 30 would be the earliest date it would consider allowing any additional student groups to return to in-person learning.

As of the News + Record’s press time Tuesday, the online petition did not have any updates regarding the board’s latest updates.

“We are hearing from our community,” CCS Public Relations Coordinator John McCann said of the petition. “We’re hearing all sides, and we’re listening.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com

A previous version of this article incorrectly said Ashley Webster was a CCS parent, but her student attends Chatham Charter, which is unaffiliated with Chatham County Schools. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The CN+R regrets this error.

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