The Christina School Board drew even further ire from protesters who attended a recent board meeting when some members drew comparisons between the socially distanced, outdoor gathering where protesters honked their horns during public comment against a return to in-person instruction and the deadly insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol building.
"We find it completely inappropriate and offensive to compare educators who are voicing their fears and concerns in a peaceful manner to the violence at the U.S. Capitol last week," DSEA President Stephanie Ingram and Christina EA President Darren Tyson said in a joint statement. "The mere reference to beliefs of insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol when discussing their employees peacefully protesting is both inappropriate and completely unprofessional."
Protesters remained in their vehicles Tuesday, January 12, 2021, to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines for the public meeting held at Gauger Cobbs Middle School, and knowing there would never be enough time for all to have a say during public comment, honked their horns to ensure their presence was felt.
Their presence of protesters, however, deterred the physical presence of board members and during the virtual board meeting, members drew their comparisons between teachers who feel unsafe returning to school due to all-time-high COVID-19 numbers in the community and the fear of bringing a deadly virus home to their families, and a mob of insurrectionists whipped into a frenzy and sicced on the Capitol building in a riot that left five dead.
"I really felt like organizing a rally in the wake of what happened in D.C. less than a week ago, it made me feel unsafe to attend the school board meeting tonight, which is a shame," said school board member Claire O'Neil at the time. "This is a sticky wicket, it is not an easy thing to be engaged in education right now. Governor [John] Carney said we need to get back to hybrid, so here we are in CSD ready to get back to hybrid this week, so that's where our minds need to go."
Tyson told WDEL he wasn't buying it.
"I felt as though it was very disingenuous behavior because it was very peaceful. I mean, it wasn't like anyone even tried to approach the building," he said. "Members just sat in their cars and beeped their horns and made signs and just wanted to be heard, plain and simple. Nothing more than that, no one was in there trying to intimidate anyone."
While teachers are likely working harder than ever to accommodate learning virtually, Tysons said they still have a right to be concerned at community spread of COVID-19 as it rages along while logging extra hours to figure out how to most effectively teach during a pandemic.
"You had a few people standing outside their cars... But it was cold out, a majority of people were just in their cars," Tyson said. "I mean, nothing malicious nothing to intimidate anybody. It was just a very peaceful protest to say exactly how we feel about returning to the buildings during this time of the pandemic being at its highest rate in our area."
A response like that also shows an enduring lack of understanding or unwillingness to hear educators concerns while board members press forward with plans to get more children--and teachers--into the building, Tyson said.
"We have members who were quarantined over Thanksgiving...over Christmas," he said. "Isolated from family...and it's even worse if you come down with it. This is real. This is real life or death. We're teachers, and yes, we do have to work--and we do work. But this is real life and a lot of our teachers have families; a lot of our teachers have significant others; a lot of our teachers are caregivers for their parents...This is not only affecting the work environment, but it's affecting your home environment as well. Imagine if you were to get sick, or come down with COVID-19. Your life is going to change; your family's life is is going to change."
Educators would now like an apology, Ingram and Tyson said.
"Instead of acknowledging the fears and concerns of their employees, the reality of the pandemic, and the fact that the community spread numbers are now higher than when the School Board decided to move to remote instruction in December, they choose to chide their employees who they sent back into school buildings," the letter, included below, read. "That is why we stand with our members in the Christina School District and call for a public apology from Superintendent [Dan] Shelton, Keeley Powell, and Claire O’Neal for their offensive comments. This is the very least that can be done to try to heal this fractured relationship."