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Union County teachers voice concerns about returning to in-person learning

An online petition is gaining traction in Union County with more than 2,700 signatures in favor of “Plan C,” which is all remote learning.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Some Union County teachers are voicing concern about returning to work by August 11. The school district has opted to go with “Plan B,” a mix of in-person and online instruction, but teachers with EduAdvocates said they don’t feel safe going back in the classroom under this plan given the current COVID-19 data.

"Data is in everything we do,” said Brittany Gendron, a Union County Public Schools librarian and literacy coach who's with EduAdvocates. “And the data is telling us it's not safe, and we need to listen."

RELATED: Track COVID-19: Carolinas outbreak map

EduAdvocates compiled a report of their concerns, including issues with health and safety, leadership, communication and input, instruction, logistics and finance, personnel, and Plan B overall.

"Our greatest fear is death and who will it be?” said Sophia Stephenson, a high school math teacher who's with EduAdvocates. "It's almost like Russian roulette, and that's the game that the Board of Education and the people in the offices that are closed off and to everyone else are playing with our lives."

An online petition is gaining traction in Union County with more than 2,700 signatures as of 6 p.m. Tuesday in favor of “Plan C,” which is all remote learning.

RELATED: Union County teachers push for change to reopening plans

According to state data, Union County's percent of positive COVID-19 tests currently stands at 10%. 

The petition calls for remote learning until the percent of positive tests is 5% or lower.

"We really want the Board of Education to hear that we need to look at the data and not just the data that is being cherry-picked and glossed over,” said Gendron. "But the data that really talks about COVID in our community."

COVID-19 has already had a presence in Union County school settings. 

Health officials say 16 people tested positive after attending the Marvin Ridge High School graduation. A second cluster was identified at East Union Middle School involving five staff members working together.

RELATED: Two Union County COVID-19 clusters identified following graduation ceremony, teachers working together

Recently, three football players at Forest Hills High School tested positive for COVID-19. 

A spokesperson for Union County Public Schools (UCPS) said employees were sent a survey for staffing purposes after the district decided to go with Plan B. Teachers shared this survey with WCNC Charlotte. 

Before selecting answers, the survey told employees to “please understand that it is the expectation that all employees report to work as required by the district and/or their supervisor.” 

The survey said that if an employee has a medical condition preventing him or her from reporting to work or from meeting the COVID-19 mandates, she or he will need to apply for a workplace accommodation.

The survey sent out by UCPS allowed employees to select their employment intent for the 2020-21 school year. They were given the options to report in-person to work, apply for a leave of absence related to COVID-19, request to be considered for High-Risk Employee accommodation, retire, or resign. 

In an interview with WCNC Charlotte, UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew G. Houlihan said about the survey, "Based on the preliminary data, an overwhelming majority of employees replied back that they would be intending to return face-to-face."

Teachers with EduAdvocates said the survey did not ask about their concerns or comfort level.

"Of course they said they would return,” Gendron said. “The question wasn't about comfort. Let's make that very clear. The question was, "Would you return to your job? Or would you retire or resign or do you have a medical condition?”

The Union County Association of Educators (UCAE) has now released a survey of its own, asking for input on plans for the upcoming school year and comfort level.

"From looking at the responses that we have so far, the majority of the teachers are not comfortable returning to the building,” said Pamela Carlton, president of UCAE. "The unknown is what's scaring everybody."

Carlton said she planned to present the findings of the survey at the Union County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.