CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — A group of Cabarrus County parents and educators is calling for more protection before the school district brings back students for more days of in-person learning.
The group gathered outside the Cabarrus County Schools Administration building Monday night, laying out their concerns.
"Every single parent, every single teacher, we want kids in the classroom,” Meredith Newman, a second-grade teacher at Patriots STEM Elementary, said. “We want to fully reopen, but it's just not safe for that yet.
Beginning Feb. 16, Cabarrus County Schools is planning for students in grades PreK-3, grades 4-12 exceptional students, English-language learners, 504, and McKinney-Vento students to transition to Plan A, which is four days a week of in-person learning and one day of remote learning.
The Cabarrus County Association of Educators, parents and other educators who attended Monday night’s news conference said they would like for all educators and staff to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the school buildings.
The group wants a guarantee of six-foot social distancing for all students, as well as masks and handwashing. They would also like full transparency of virus infection data, including the exact number and school location of person-to-person infections in school buildings.
"It's really important that we vaccinate school employees, all school employees, not just teachers, and it's really important that we maintain six feet of social distancing because our students can't get vaccinated yet,” Newman said.
Ashley Price, a mom of three students in Cabarrus County, said she knows the struggle parents have been dealing with throughout this challenging school year.
"I want my children back in school,” Price said. “I understand that they learn best in that environment. Remote learning has been a challenge."
However, Price said she wants the school environment to be safe, not just for her children but also for their teachers.
"In order for our students to be able to stay in the classroom, our teachers have to be healthy and able to teach,” Price added.
Dr. Sandy Ward, principal at W.R. Odell Elementary School, said the district has been doing the best that it can to get students back in the classroom and keep everyone safe.
“Contrary to what people say, teachers want to be back to school,” Ward said. “They want to be with their children. We want to be teaching, educating, and loving on our kids. We want to do it in a safe environment.”
Cabarrus County Schools has taken steps to add protections in its schools thus far, including health screenings, temperature checks, mask-wearing, and more.
Ward said her school is preparing to bring third-grade students back for four days a week of in-person learning under the transition to Plan A.
"We've asked teachers to take out like extraneous furniture, and you know, really making sure that the desks can really be as far apart as possible,” Ward said. “Most of the measures we've put in place have worked though."
Ward said she understands the fears and concerns that teachers have brought up. She said administrators and school leadership have tried to address safety concerns on a case-by-case basis and review each situation that has arisen.
"It's a scary time, right?” Ward said. “But what I can say is Cabarrus County has done such a phenomenal job of just offering up the PPE, offering up like the listening ear."
Ward said she agrees that teachers should be made a priority as the vaccine is rolled out but struggles with where they should fall in line since there are others who need the vaccine, like elderly people, in front of them.
“Part of me, as a community member, says, ‘If people really want us back in school, then we should have the vaccine,’” Ward added.