Chatham County

Chatham County schools board votes on May 16 school closing

Chatham County Schools Superintendent Derrick Jordan recommended to the Chatham County Board of Education that schools should be closed next Wednesday.
Chatham County Schools Superintendent Derrick Jordan recommended to the Chatham County Board of Education that schools should be closed next Wednesday.

The decision to close public schools Wednesday in Chatham County wasn't an emergency but it did come in an emergency school board session.

When it was decided, the vote was unanimous, 5-0, after a lively discussion Friday evening.

The school board followed the recommendation of Superintendent Derrick Jordan, who said there likely would not be enough substitute teachers available to cover teacher absences Wednesday.

Chatham County joined more than 30 school districts that have canceled classes next week so more than 15,000 educators and counting can attend the "March for Students and Rally for Respect."

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"I thought we were going to be all right Monday and Tuesday," Jordan said. "But we got to Wednesday and the number spiked. Some schools were going to be able to cover the absences. but others were not. We had to look at the entire picture, and that's why we made the recommendation we did."

The day will be converted to a day off for students and an optional teacher workday for other employees. It will not have to be made up, according to school officials.

Chatham County Board of Education Chairman Gary Leonard said it was appropriate to make the decision when they did to give parents enough notice so they could make plans for the children. The board's regular meeting is scheduled for Monday night.

"We wanted to give parents more than a couple of days to make plans for Wednesday,: he said.

Two people spoke out against closing schools next week. They said it was unfair to students for schools to be closed.

Meredith Johnson, who is a test coordinator at Margaret B. Pollard Middle School, said procuring proctors to help with year-end testing was going to be more difficult if schools were closed.

"It is very difficult to get proctors," said Johnson, who also has four children in school. "They're parents, and I can understand their frustration for pulling out of proctoring. They're parents who believe their children need to be in school, and they're making their statement."

Jordan said he had been in contact with superintendents in neighboring counties as he monitored the number of teachers requesting time off. He said the larger school systems in Wake and Durham counties hit marks that made their decisions come more quickly.

"They told me they hit triple digits fairly quickly and that made their decision easier," Jordan said.

Chatham County has about 600 teachers. Jordan said there were fewer than 50 who had requested the time off by Tuesday. That number reached 117, almost one in five teachers in the county by Wednesday.

"I think the more people heard about it, read about it, saw it on the news, they became more interested in it," Jordan said. "I have mixed feelings about closing schools, but I totally support our teachers.

Rally organizers want to bring more attention to education issues. Under Republican legislative leadership, organizers say, support for public education has waned, including shortages of teacher assistants and counselors, outdated textbooks and technology, all amid increasing demands on classroom teachers.

"They're interested in more than salary increases," Jordan said. "Some of it is about the respect for the position they hold that they're not getting. It's multi-faceted."

Chatham County has 18 public schools and serves about 8,800 students.

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