NCAE President Mark Jewell: N.C. Virtual Public School teachers deserve better

NCAE President Mark Jewell

This story has been updated to reflect new developments. Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education have asked state lawmakers to exempt N.C. Virtual Public School teachers from mandate to take a 31-day service break. 

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) has joined the chorus of supporters calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to help resolve the situation with 220 N.C. Virtual Public School (NCVPS) teachers who were told that can’t work this fall to satisfy a state law requirement for temporary workers.

In a statement Friday, NCAE President Mark Jewell said the teacher organization has spoken to Cooper who is working to resolve the issue.

“What is not in dispute is that this situation was handled poorly, and teachers deserve better than being told they cannot work two weeks before the start of school,” Jewell said.

Meanwhile, State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education sent an email to the chairmen of the General Assembly’s education committees requesting as a short-term solution an amendment to state law to exempt NCVPS teachers from the 31-day service break requirement.

“For the long term, DPI [N.C. Department of Public Instruction] will be working on other payment and employment options,” DPI staffers wrote in a letter to the committee chairmen.

Without the short-term fix, Johnson’s staffers said NCVPS will be forced to cancel or reduce enrollment in half of NCVPS’ 150 courses this year. They estimate 7,300 students will be unable to take advantage of the NCVPS courses this year if teachers are forced to take the 31-day service break.

NCVPS teachers are temporary employees hired through Temporary Solutions, which was established by the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) to provide temporary workers for state government agencies.

As temporary workers, the teachers are required by law to take a 31-day break after reaching 11-consecutive months of service. The break can be taken anytime during the 11 months to accommodate the needs of the agency.

NCVPS has been out of compliance since 2014. That’s when the school was required to transition to a temporary employment service for processing of payroll and other HR functions for temporary employees.

Teachers point, however, to a Frequently Asked Question document distributed by Temporary Solutions in 2014 that seems to suggest the 31-day break rule wouldn’t be a factor for teachers.

“You will eligible to teach the same amount of sections you have been approved to teach as long as we have enrollments available and you are meeting the teacher expectations,” the FAQ reads. “This 31 day break will be covered due to the time periods in which teachers will be paid.”

Temple Gaines Eller, a Latin teacher from Greensboro, has taught for NCVPS since the online school opened for business in 2007, told Policy Watch that a “link in the contract I signed states that the 31-day waiting period does not apply to us (teachers).”

Eller was one of the 220 teachers told they can’t teach at NCVPS in the fall. She also teaches Latin at Grimsley High School in Greensboro.

Eller posted this message on Facebook:

“They knew in MAY they were going to do this and told us last week. The payroll people offered the school other options, but the school said no, we are going to do it this way. They have ALREADY LISTED OUR JOBS AS OPEN to hire replacements for us.”

Jill Lucas, a spokeswoman for OSHR, has said the school was given options in May that could have helped it avoid the current situation.

“They [NCVPS] could have considered other ways to contract with their employees, which would have allowed them to reset the clock,” Lucas said.

Some teachers list NCVPS as their sole source of income. Many say they will face financial hardships due to the forced break in employment.

NCVPS is the state run online class program in North Carolina.  It is reportedly the second largest online class program in the United States. The school has served over 175,000 middle and high school students since it opened in the summer of 2007

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