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Prince William Teachers Rally for Greater Input on School Reopening Plans

| July 4, 2020 | 0 Comments | Education

A teacher brings her young daughter along with her to the July 3 rally at the Kelly Leadership Center.

Prince William County teachers rallied outside the Kelly Leadership Center, Friday morning, demanding PWCS school division consider employee input in their plan to reopening schools. They said it is unacceptable that they have only been considered at the end of the process. 

They did not advocate for one solution, only that they be heard since the situation directly affects their health, the health of their families, their livelihoods and work and home lives. The rally was supported by the PWEA and several elected officials from the Democratic Party. 

PWEA President-Elect Maggie Hansford explained PWEA members were not given proper representation on Prince William County Schools 90-person Task Forc on reopening as administrators chose the teachers who would participate. 

And if it was not for the association’s organizing, the school board would not have added a citizen’s comment special electronic school board meeting on July 7, for the purpose of teachers and parents sharing their concerns. While it is foolish to believe the school division does not have a plan by now, Hansford said; nonetheless, she asks the school board to listen to their teachers and employees.

Oveta Scott teacher and Outreach/Mobilization Chair of the PWEA said PWCS division leadership has not revealed who is on the committee.“Who are they? Can we email them?” She wants to know if the group is diverse. Will they consider different health and economic considerations?

VIDEO CLIP: Oveta Scott introduces the purpose of the rally. 

Scott said that teachers have turned to their elected officials and the media to make their concerns heard for “mine, yours, our children’s health.” She asks PWCS not to blindly follow neighboring counties and discount economic differences. Neabsco Supervisor Victor Angry agreed, saying PWCS’s plan should be better. 

Woodbridge School Board member Loree Williams said she’s heard teachers have been discouraged from taking part in educational rallies and even from contacting their board members. But she wants to hear from PWCS employees. 

Woman holds a sign that says “listen to your teachers. our opinions matter,” at a Prince William County teachers rally on July 3, 2020.

“You can’t bother us. Period.This board does not believe in that. This is a new board, and we mean it. Let us know what we don’t know!” Williams said. 

“You did not sign up to be healthcare workers,” said Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye. “You did not sign up to be EMTs. You did not sign up to put your lives at risk every time you walk in the building. Frankly, it’s ridiculous (that you have been excluded from the process.)” 

Del. Danica Roem of the 13th District said what she sees at the rally is, “good trouble,” or “the right kind of trouble,” because things only change when people speak up. She added that teacher issues are women’s right’s issue, since women make up the majority of the profession. 

VIDEO CLIP: Del. Roem talks about the power of “Good Trouble.”

Del. Elizabeth Guzman of the 31st District and the Vice Chair of the Virginia Delegate’s Committee of Education said that in 2021 she and many of her Democrat colleagues hope to bring “collective bargaining” to Virginia, and then educators will really have a seat at the table.

VIDEO CLIP: Del. Guzman talks collective bargaining

“It’s okay for you to care about your safety, about your family and your community,” Guzman said. “Teachers who live in Prince William County also pay taxes.” 

It needs to be understood that teachers are also parents, and many are the breadwinners in their families. Their concerns are important. She added she was also unhappy with the limitations of the parent survey. 

“Give them hell because they are not going to do with without listening to our voices,” Guzman said. 

Hansford said PWEA survey revealed teachers are concerned about teaching both online and in-person, the safety of themselves and their family, and using up all of their sick days should they catch COVID, particularly women who have taken maternity leave. 

Teacher Missy Alexander, said, “Almost overnight our lives changed.” She said it is unacceptable to be considered at the last moment. “We’re not having it!” Quoting African American author Zora Neale Hurston, she said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

T.A. Carolyn McNeal said that that PWEA President Riley O’Casey tried to talk at a school board meeting and was told she was off topic. Some school board members did not even read the PWEA survey.

Potomac School Board member Justin Wilk said he read the survey. He said it is personal to him. His wife is a teacher and his son a student with special needs. Now, it’s the second week of July and parents don’t know what they’re doing in the fall. “You can’t look for childcare yet.” 

“A lot of us on the board feel that we have been shut out of the process,” said Wilk. “It’s concerning. Majorly.”

One mother spoke, saying parents were also not sufficiently included in the process. It appears to her the administration already had a plan in mind and constructed the surveys so feedback would support that plan.

She also said it is so difficult for parents right now because online learning equals too much screen time and many people cannot afford childcare for their children. 

“Standing here and saying, ‘yay teachers!” Is not enough said a woman who identified herself as “Debbie,” a teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School, soon to be Unity Reed High School. She said she has compromised health and so does her child, but she attended because she feels it is that important. 

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right,” said Albus Dumbledore, of Harry Potter. “Give us a plan that’s right and not easy,” Debbie said. 

McNeal said she feels she must speak for her colleagues who are afraid to speak up. Who don’t want to be seen as questioning school leadership.

“There is a lot of resistance to teachers speaking out and being heard. We do have a lot of support (on the school board). It’s disheartening at the moment to be told ‘no, you can’t talk.’ I feel like it is my role to really get down and dirty. Our lives are at stake. So many people here, I guaratee are high risk.”

School board members pictured here Adele Jackson, Justin Wilk, Lisa Zargarpur and Loree Williams in attendance show their dedication to Prince William educators standing with PWEA President-Elect Maggie Hansford.

After the rally, Scott elaborated on how she felt the administration should have been, “more proactive than reactive.” “You told us you could furlough us,” then she said, they didn’t even really go about that the right way either.

“We’re parents as well,” said she, and she believes they should have “absolutely have formed a plan already.” But she said they need to think positively. “Calm is key in all of this. We have great teachers and great staff.”

Prince William School Board members Adele Jackson, Lisa Zargarpur and Jennifer Wall were in attendance as well as Board of County Supervisors Chairwoman Ann Wheeler. Occoquan School Board Lillie Jessie member posted a comment on social media adding her support for teachers.

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