Reopening rage: Orange County’s plan for in-person class draws fear, anger, resignations from teachers

Teachers in Orange County feel the district is unprepared for in-person reopening. Pictured: Orange County High School. Teachers in Orange County feel the district is unprepared for in-person reopening. Pictured: Orange County High School.

“Morale is at the lowest level it’s ever been,” says one Orange County public school teacher. “You walk down the hallway and everybody is banging their heads against the wall because we’re just so frustrated.” 

“The most appalling part of this,” says another teacher, “is that there’s so many things that they haven’t thought about.”

In rural Orange County, about an hour northeast of Charlottesville, students are slated to return to classrooms in person in late August. High schoolers will be allowed to return once a week, based on their last names, while pre-K through eighth grade will go in twice a week.

The plan for in-person learning has infuriated Orange County teachers, who are afraid for the health of their students, their families, and themselves. C-VILLE Weekly spoke with three teachers in the Orange County public school system, and all requested anonymity out of concern that their employment status might be affected by speaking up. 

In mid-July, more than 70 teachers and staff in the district signed an open letter to the school board, asking that the year begin entirely virtually. 

“I haven’t even heard it be mentioned,” one teacher says of the letter. “I don’t think that was even taken seriously.”

Multiple members of the Orange County schools’ pandemic response team, including the district’s human resources director, did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story. 

Teachers point out major holes in the district’s health plan, which was approved by the school board in early August.

Students are required to wear masks in the hallways, but teachers are not allowed to make them wear masks in classrooms, as long as the students are sitting at their desks.

“They’re still going to be in a classroom for an hour and a half with [other] students. How is that safe? It’s a closed environment,” one teacher says. “We have all these other restrictions of things they can’t wear. No hoodies and things like that. But we can’t tell them that they have to keep the mask on.”

Orange County High School was built in 1952. “The ventilation—I don’t even know the last time it’s been checked,” the teacher continues. “The ventilation in my classroom has always been poor. As soon as I walk in, I’m congested.”

“It’s just the most absurd thing we’ve ever heard,” says another teacher.

The hallways are full of hand sanitizer dispensers that have been empty for the last two weeks, one teacher reports.

Additionally, teachers are being asked to take each student’s temperature in first period every day with a contactless thermometer. “It’s putting us more at risk, because we’re going to be face to face with them,” a teacher says.

Because each school only has one nurse, the district has attempted to limit the number of students who go to the nurse’s office. The recently approved health plan says, “First aid situations, to the degree possible, will be handled in the classroom by the student with teacher guidance to prevent office congregation and possible cross exposure.” And then, underlined, “Students should be triaged before they are sent to the clinic.”

“We’re not health care providers,” says one teacher. 

While students have an option to attend class completely virtually, teachers are being told they must come in. Teachers who have tried to obtain a waiver excusing them from in-person class based on pre-existing health conditions have been rebuffed.

Multiple teachers mentioned that they have a colleague currently fighting cancer who has not been granted a waiver to work virtually.

“I know one teacher who had health issues. He resigned,” says another teacher. “He was concerned about coming in, and essentially he was told he could resign.”

Multiple teachers emphasized that the school board is driving the push to return. “I think the administration themselves, the principals, have put in an effort to make this thing work,” one teacher says. “My issue comes from all the way at the top.”

“The superintendent is pandering to a lot of people in the community,” says another teacher, in an effort to explain the district’s insistence on in-person learning. “It’s a really rural community, and a lot of people here are of the thought that it’s not a real pandemic, that it’s a hoax.”

While Charlottesville has elected to begin the year completely virtually, more rural areas like Greene and Orange counties plan to bring students back in a hybrid format beginning in late August or early September. Louisa County students are already back in school.

“In the community as a whole, there was an underlying resentment when teachers were sent home to teach virtually,” says another teacher, citing social media posts made by neighbors and parents. “That we were getting paid to do nothing. Which was far from the truth—we’re doing more work, I think.”

“This time of year is usually really exciting,” the teacher continues. “This year, it’s not uncommon to hear a teacher say, I think I’m done. I’m going to quit. Which you normally would never hear at our school.”

“A lot of people are just like, ‘this is it.’ They can’t do it anymore, they want to quit. I’ve been looking for other jobs,” says a teacher with more than a decade of experience in the school system.

 

Posted In:     News

Tags:    

Previous Post

Aiming high: Jennifer Carroll Foy wants to fight for the little guy

Next Post

Bridging the gaps: New Burley principal has big plans



Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to editor@c-ville.com.

16
Leave a Reply

avatar
8 Comment threads
8 Thread replies
18 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
15 Comment authors
Donald JAprilSandra BoozerWJHornMatt Gilliam Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mchewning
Guest
Mchewning

Yes, Louisa is back in school and already sending letters home of a positive COVID case in the school. Not a student- an employee! Kids should be only virtual for now. These numbers are going to spike again and we’ll be out of phase 3 and back to shutting everything back down!

Sandra Boozer
Member
Sandra Boozer

There are five cases in Louisa Schools now- 1 at the HS, 2 at the Middle School, 1 at an elementary school and a teacher at another elementary school

Lorinda Saulnier
Guest
Lorinda Saulnier

I work in a small, (under 200 students) Catholic school in Tennessee. We’ve been in school two weeks and I am already sitting at home in quarantine due to Covid exposure in my classroom. It’s going to happen in all schools, it’s just a matter of time. I will say, we wore masks and I tested negative. Masks work!! That being said, our country needs to get a handle on this pandemic. No group gatherings throughout schools and colleges, if face to face contact opens schools. Teachers and students well being needs to come first!! Maybe, the County officials should… Read more »

Melissa Moore
Guest
Melissa Moore

I’m just curious. And not trying to be smart at all, was everyone wearing masks? If so how was there covid exposure?

Lorinda Saulnier
Guest
Lorinda Saulnier

The teacher had been directly exposed from a family member. At that point, she stayed home to quarantine. The day before, she taught in the classroom. Unknowingly to her (no symptoms),she had also came down with Covid. She and I (I am the asst.)as well as the children, wore masks that day. I believe the masks protected the rest of us from contracting the disease.

Claudette
Guest
Claudette

Orange County’s school board member, Jim Hopkins, published an article in the Lake of the Woods Newsletter full of false information and unsupported data, from one doctor in the United Kingdom as a basis for risking the lives of students and staff in Orange County. It clearly reflects his political motives for opening the schools. One can only assume he is personally either too elderly or too biased to understand the scientific facts that inform the surrounding counties choices to delay in-person classes. The entire school board should be held accountable for the consequences of this reckless agenda.

Rebecca Friedel
Guest
Rebecca Friedel

I agree. It’s a crying shame that this pandemic has become so political. I feel like the child in the story The Emperor’s New Clothes, except over 60% or more of the country is openly discussing the issue of Imperial nudity. It is alarming that so the people are citing that most children learn better in a classroom setting they are minimizing the potential threat to the students, staff and every family affected by the school board’s decision. They have lost sight of the fact this is a novel virus, we don’t yet the long term effects the virus can… Read more »

Vaughan
Guest
Vaughan

What qualifications do you have in order to deem the article published as “false information?” There are many US Pediatricians who have spoken on behalf of the children and the need for them to be back in school. There are children that may be in abusive situations in which now cannot escape. What about them? If you want to blame this on someone or a group, complain to the Virginia Department of Education. All school boards had to submit their plans for approval. One could also argue against your statement of it being a political motive, maybe that’s the reason… Read more »

G Stevens
Guest
G Stevens

I live in Louisa and I resent the fact that you all just assume that everyone has access to reliable internet and can do virtual schooling. What I hear as a parent is that you want to deny my children an education just because we don’t live in a place where we can get good enough internet. And yes there are still plenty of places around that are like that. I would have to take my children to sit in a hot parking lot for hours to use the available hot spots or struggle to get there on icy roads… Read more »

Resi Connell
Guest
Resi Connell

There is NO internet in Orange County. Many of the kids have zero access to anything online. Virtual school is not an option.

Michael
Guest
Michael

This option was put in place based on the MAJORITY opinion of the community. People have the ability to choose for themselves in this country. Send your children or don’t. Work for the school system or don’t. The teachers are not victims. They have choices. It’s no different then other “essential workers” who contact hundreds of customers on a daily basis.

Claudette
Guest
Claudette

The county did not vote on it

WJHorn
Guest
WJHorn

I agree… There are many levels of participation for students – from limited in-school to 100% virtual. PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are stocked in every classroom and a lot of thought went into the social distancing and masking protocols. I get it; there is a lot of anxiety and fear out there, and media outlets have stoked that fear for months. Here in Orange we all have choices. Parents can keep their kids home or send them to school 1 day a week… Teachers, unfortunately, have to follow policies as employees of the district, but they as well… Read more »

Matt Gilliam
Guest
Matt Gilliam

I teach at the high school in Orange. I don’t hear much anger about opening. I think this article makes it sound like the teachers are more angry in general than we are. I hear a lot of frustration trying to get ready, but I think everyone understands how hard these decisions are to make.. There is a lot to do and everyone is out of their comfort zone. This is my 30th year. I had it down. Now I’m really having to learn new technology and think outside the box. It is a bit scary, but interesting. I really… Read more »

April
Guest
April

There’s many and more who I know are angry.

Donald J
Guest
Donald J

Miserable cowards. This was a character test, and they failed miserably.