Parents vent at SoCo school board

Published 4:21 am Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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On Monday night, several frustrated and angry parents of students in Southampton County Public Schools let the SCPS board members know where they stood with them … and it’s not on the same side.

Preceding the public comment period, Chairwoman Dr. Deborah Goodwyn said, “The board values public participation and recognizes the importance of receiving public input.” She explained that the board has rules about the segment. The board members would not comment on what’s being said. There should be no “booing, hissing or clapping. This is a time to listen,” she added. Further, if a person wanted to speak, they should have signed up. The time limit is 3 minutes, marked by a large screen graphic in front. Also, a speaker could not yield his or her remaining time to another person, nor transfer their opportunity to another. Speakers are to address the board, not Supt. Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon nor the audience.

Patricia Morris, the first speaker, said she has a fifth grader at Nottoway Elementary and an eighth grader at Southampton High School. She appreciates the need for virtual learning, but has been “frustrated by the tablets lacking abilities to load programs.” Morris added that the majority of teachers are great at responding to questions, but there have been some who have fallen short.

Marguerite Cross, who has a senior at SHS, said, “I feel again I am talking to a wall. We take surveys and decisions are made that don’t support them. We’re all in this together, people. Attacking on social media is just not acceptable.”

George Collins noted that in July he called out the board on communication and transparency, “and that’s still true. We have not received a handbook. We should have had that in hand before school started. The Southampton board had the opportunity to be a leader, which has failed our students.”

•Ann Starkweather, who has two children, one a fifth grader at Nottoway Elementary, pointed out the “limitations of our locality and continuity of learning. I’m disappointed by only hot spots available [to gain internet access].” I strongly advise that the live stream issue be addressed.”

A Mrs. Osborne said, “I’ll make this short and sweet. I love how you all just make up rules … . I heard you mention we can’t give up our time. Where is it written. Can I see it?”

Osborne wanted to yield to Joey Moore and a survey he personally conducted, and her voice became louder as she challenged the board. “Where can I find it in writing?! We would like our voices to be heard!”

An unidentified man came up to the board members saying he wanted to hear what Moore had to say. He later said to them, “You’re not getting a pass. Put on your big-boy pants. We pay your salaries. Remember that.”

He directed to Shannon and members, “You work for us. Suck it up. Do you understand? Get your stuff together. Be leaders instead of cowards. Why can’t you get kids back in schools? Do I make myself clear. Now get to work!”

Moore said he did a survey got 361 responses and passed out copies to the board.

Among his questions: Do you have a reliable internet signal at home strong enough for your student to participate in the SCPS Virtual Learning Plan? 72% said yes.

If you have a gifted or Special Needs Student, has SCPS met your needs and expectation this school year? 52% said No.

Thirty-nine percent gave the IT Department five stars (being the best) in helping with technical issues.

Fifty-seven percent gave five star for rating communication efforts and cooperation with their students’ teachers.

To see the full survey, go to

The final speaker was Karen Sledge, a teacher at Meherrin Elementary School who was allowed to call in from home. Goodwyn said that Sledge is in isolation because of the novel coronavirus. She called to share her experiences and concerns about students returning to in-person teaching. The instructor said that for more than a week she’s been very sick with symptoms such as, but not limited to fever, extreme pain, headache, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

But the worst one of all is the fear, the overwhelming fear that comes with this disease is indescribable,” Sledge said with audible emotion in her voice. “I would lay there some days wondering if this was it. Is this the way my life is going to end? Am I going to make it through this?”

Although her fever has abated, the teacher continued that she’s still “faced with the possibility of pneumonia setting in, a major danger of this disease.”

Her husband and daughter have tested positive, and her mother is in the hospital ICU fighting for her life.

One family affected four different ways. I sincerely hope none of you or your loved ones ever have to experience this,” she said. “I share my story with you tonight because I know you are faced with a very important and controversial decision about sending our students back to school. Please consider all aspects of this as you make your decision. This virus is real, and I really believe that people that are pushing for school reopening won’t realize that until it’s too late. Please consider the health and welfare of all involved.”

Sledge then posed questions for the board to consider: Could it promise she’ll be safe in her class with students? Will all steps will be taken to ensure sanitizing efforts will be diligent and repeated multiple times a day” Would she have the option to remain a virtual teacher to protect her family and her self, especially since she has underlying conditions.

Sledge went on to say that she’s been a teacher in the county for 26 years and knows of the importance of classroom instruction and the need social interaction between students and teachers, and that she’s aware that some parents are struggling.

But, she also “knows what the virus feels like and the potential effects it has on your life. I understand that virtual learning has been a challenge and it has been very frustrating and hard for some people, but let me assure that catching this virus is much, much worse.”

The teacher noted that while most children may not get as sick as adults, they can carry it and don’t even know they have it.

People don’t know what it’s like to live with that uncertainty or fear until you have experienced it yourself. As you make your decision tonight [at this point the 3-minute alarm sounded] or whenever it may be, please think of what it would do to your family and friends of the students.”