As Cabarrus County Schools started last week in Plan B, bringing students and staffers on campus together for the first time since March 13, there was an understandable nervousness for a lot of people.
How will safety measures put into place by the school district work out? Will everyone have what they need? If a person has a fever or symptoms of COVID-19, will the district catch it and isolate them? Will everyone stay healthy and safe?
These were questions on the minds of a number of staff members throughout the district who would be in the at-risk category for the novel coronavirus. Those ages 65 and older who contracted COVID-19 in Cabarrus County have a fatality rate of 12.4%, according to the Cabarrus Health Alliance.
Additionally, those with certain medical conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney disease or COPD have been shown to be more susceptible to being severely affected by COVID-19.
Several people in those categories work in the district and, according to some who spoke at last week’s Board of Education meeting and Christin McDowell, a teacher who talked to the Independent Tribune afterward and has elected to apply for FMLA and not to return to school in Plan B, they have been denied the option to work remotely.
Some said no teachers in the district were approved for such a request. Cabarrus County Schools would not reveal if the statement was true due to privacy laws, but several considered at-risk have been denied the right to work from home.
Principals in the district are not ignoring the issue and at least a few are doing what they can to address concerns and assure staff members they will be safe.
Liz Crook Snyder is principal at Concord Middle School. She wanted to do all she could to make everyone feel as safe as possible in the move to Plan B.
“Any teacher that had a concern and went through the HR process, they were all heard,” she said in a phone interview last week. “And all of my teachers felt comfortable with the accommodations given.”
The district has taken steps to keep everyone safe, with massive cleaning procedures at all schools throughout Cabarrus County. Masks are mandated for everyone on campus, 6 feet of social distance is required, and temperature checks must be taken for everyone who enters a school building, even those boarding buses but not yet on CCS grounds.
The COVID-19 infection rate is still above 5% in Cabarrus County, but the school district is taking precautions to prevent its spread on campus.
Kannapolis City Schools is smaller than Cabarrus County Schools, but the district says it has not had a single case of spread on any of its campuses, which accommodate about 5,000 students.
Other school districts have seen a spread of the virus, but KCS has been a solid example so far of what can be done. CCS is doing what it can to continue that success with help from the Cabarrus Health Alliance, which consults with both districts weekly.
But some teachers still have concerns, especially if they are considered at-risk. Principals cannot approve staff members to work remotely; that is up to the Human Resources Department, but Snyder is doing all she can to make a tough situation better for her staffers.
“If there was anything needed, they asked and they received,” she said, “and it’s just been a great start.”
McDowell said her principal at the Performance Learning Center was very understanding of her concerns and has been supportive through what has been a difficult process.
The question still remains if there will come a point where at-risk staff members are allowed to work remotely. It will be a concern until significant progress is made in combatting COVID-19.
All that is out of the hands of principals like Snyder, though, who says all she can do is support her staff as the year continues. She thought the week started off well, and she hopes the rest of the year is the same.
“We’re just tickled to have them back,” she said of students. “We’re knocking on wood; we hope (the rest of the week) goes as smooth.”
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