Since the academic school year began in July, there have been 84 resignations or retirements at Chatham County Schools, according to approved personnel agendas, with 56 of those taking place after …
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Since the academic school year began in July, there have been 84 resignations or retirements at Chatham County Schools, according to approved personnel agendas, with 56 of those taking place after the Board of Education’s Sept. 29 decision to begin phasing into Plan B.
School staff and residents opposed to returning to in-person hybrid learning have cited these numbers as one reason to delay in returning, but personnel agendas from the previous two years suggest this number of resignations is not abnormal. During the 2019-20 school year, there were 102 total resignations or retirements through mid-February; there were 49 from October to mid-February, slightly less than the same calendar period tracked this year, following the move to Plan B. In 2018-19, there were 107 total resignations through mid-February, with 58 taking place in that same October-February period.
CCS administration emphasized to the News + Record that the majority of listed resignations don’t include a reason for the move. In the agendas listed for this school year — which include 74 resignations and 10 retirements — reasons listed included:
• three resignations related to teaching offers in another county
• two related to health
• one each related to family responsibility, a declined position and continuing education, and two listed as “other.”
None of the other cases listed reasons for leaving the system.
Several CCS school staff members have told the News + Record they’ve resigned or retired early because of concerns related to COVID-19, but none were willing to speak on the matter publicly. Many expressed deep sadness in making the decision.
A Jan. 11 letter signed by 51 CCS high school staff members and sent to the BOE cited such resignations, expressing “grave” concerns over the safety of hybrid in-person learning and calls for the board to return to the fully remote Plan C. Of the staff surveyed for the letter, 35 respondents said they were likely or very likely to “take medical leave, resign, or retire early and no longer report to the building daily” if the district continued the transition to Plan B.
“According to personnel info released in school board minutes, 54 of our colleagues have already retired or resigned since September 2020,” the letter said, using updated personnel agendas at the time. “The subsequent position vacancies combined with the existing substitute shortage and higher likelihood of staff calling out sick have added to our concerns about the safe supervision of students. Staffing issues are inevitable should Plan B be implemented.”
Northwood teacher Edward Walgate, a signer who spearheaded the writing of the letter, told the News + Record he planned to keep teaching even if Plan B continued as scheduled. High school students returned for in-person learning on Feb. 1. Before that return, Walgate said it’d been painful to see and hear about other teachers leaving. Only the week before, he said he watched a “really good teacher” and colleague wheel her personal belongings out of the building after resigning for health reasons.
At neighboring Wake County Schools, a staffing shortage led its BOE to implement a two-week pause on in-person learning in January, later extended to at least mid-February. However, that decision was blamed on the number of teachers in COVID-19 quarantine, not due to retirements or resignations. Starting this week, Pre-K through 3rd grade and K-12 special education Wake students in regional programs will have daily in-person classes, and students in 4th through 12th grade will be on a rotation of one week of in-person classes and two weeks of online courses.
The state’s newest annual “State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina” report shows that 7.5% of teachers resigned or retired last year, the same as the previous school year. The report only covers the 2020 school year through March though, when schools began closing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Though fewer teachers have quit working in N.C. public schools in recent years, the News & Observer reported in December, there are some concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could reverse the trend in the state.
“We will not see any anomalies in movement or attrition due to COVID-19 because we captured this data before any of those events might have occurred,” said Thomas Tomberlin, director of educator recruitment and support at the state Department of Public Instruction, at a Dec. 3 State Board of Education meeting, the N&O reported.
“So next year’s report possibly is going to be a lot more interesting in terms of how teachers moved or might have left the profession as a result of the pandemic.”
In Chatham, the Jan. 11 CCS staff letter expressed concern over the district’s position vacancies, substitute shortages and “higher likelihood of staff calling out sick,” saying staffing issues would be inevitable if Plan B is implemented. Teachers and administrators have previously told the News + Record their workload has increased dramatically during remote learning, which will continue even as some form of in-person learning is implemented under Plan B.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.