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Public speaks in person to the board about reopening of schools for first time since March

Public speaks in person to the board about reopening of schools for first time since March

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CABARRUS COUNTY — Community members took time to share their opinions on the reopening of Cabarrus County Schools at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools shut down as educational buildings in March, the Cabarrus County Board of Education has been holding its meetings primarily virtually through Teams and broadcast on YouTube.

But Monday, the Board of Education allowed public speakers to address them in person at the Education Center on Old Airport Road.

Each person was given three minutes to address the board while masks were required on the way to the podium though they were allowed to take them off when speaking on the microphone.

Eleven speakers took the time to address the board.

A Student’s Perspective

“Put yourself in the shoes of a student at this time,” Finley Edwards, a senior at Cox Mill High School said. “Could you sit in front of a computer screen seven hours a day and tell me that you would be able to 100% pay attention and retain all the information given to you?

“Every time the school board votes, students continue to struggle with anxiety and depression due to their isolation and lack of social interaction.

“Mental health is not something that just appears and can completely go away. It is a serious matter that I feel is not being given the attention it deserves.”

Cabarrus County Schools started the year under Cooper’s Plan C which means students and teachers have been teaching and learning fully remotely.

The Board of Education voted 4-3 in favor of bringing students in kindergarten through third grade back under Plan A and all other students under Plan B starting Oct. 19 after Cooper allowed such a change a few weeks ago.

But during last week’s work session, Board Member Carolyn Carpenter — who voted in favor of going back under Plan A two weeks before — made a motion to bring all students back under Plan B starting Oct. 19. That motion passed 4-3.

Plan B allows schools to reopen at reduced capacity. Plan A would put all students back in schools with minimal social distancing.

An uncomfortable position

This is a divisive issue. More than 1,000 parents have signed a petition asking the Board of Education to bring students in kindergarten through third grade back in Plan A as originally voted upon. Others were opposed to this idea.

But what was evident throughout Monday’s meeting was the community’s opposition to the treatment of individuals who are at-risk due to COVID-19. Several speakers detailed stories of staff members who are at-risk but have been denied the option to teach remotely when campuses reopen under Plan B next week.

Outside the classroom

Just about every speaker acknowledged to the Board of Education that this was not an easy decision. It’s a very complicated one that goes beyond health and education. Safety has to be a consideration as well.

Paula Yost spoke to the board on behalf of Cabarrus County’s Child Protection and Fatality Team.

Her team is responsible for reviewing the death of every child in Cabarrus County.

“We absolutely do not want to review a COVID-caused child fatality,” she said. “We also do not want to have to deal with the mental health issues caused by the death of their teacher.

“However, some of these children have problems that are worse than COVID, were here before COVID, and will be here long after COVID.”

She continued: “Children all across this county are being exposed to increases in domestic violence, to parents who are suffering from addiction, and children all across this county are not being properly supervised because their parents simply have to work.

“Whether we like to classify school as childcare or not, the American reality is that for many families that is what it is. You cannot work if you are worried about your children and school is a safe place where they are nurtured and educated.

“Many children in this county are also victims of child sexual abuse. Studies have shown that child sex abuse victims are most likely to report that abuse to a trusted friend at school or to a teacher. Right now those children have absolutely no outlet.”

Yost called schools a safe refuge for these children and that the issues mentioned before have been worsened by COVID-19.

Foster care numbers are also going up during this crisis going from a normal number of 100 to 120 to now between 150 and 160.

“We are getting an increased number of parents bringing their children to DHS and leaving them,” Yost said. “Hear me say that — they are leaving them.”

She continued: “Our community needs to have a serious, detailed conversation about many of the things that I just mentioned because our children and our families deserve that attention.”

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