Lillie Jessie

Occoquan District School Board Representative Lillie Jessie

On Monday, Dec. 14, I woke up to an email box full from teachers, bus drivers and staff members not just asking but begging Superintendent Steven Walts and his pandemic team to relook at their plans for in-person learning in light of the staggering numbers of COVID-19 infections in our county. Prince William County is the “hot spot” for infections in Northern Virginia. Despite this, there has been no public statement to reconsider in-person learning as there has been in neighboring districts. 

Nearby counties returned to virtual or are at least reconsidering plans based on set metrics. Dr. Walts has not stated his standard for in-person instruction. He has indicated a “I will look at it” policy. The students, parents and staff deserve more.  

When Dr. Walts initially presented his return-to-school plan last summer, I stated that his Power Points were “powerless” because there was no “empathy for teachers” slide in the deck.  Presentations in the board room continue to be lacking, each telling us how great things are. I am receiving emails and phone calls from teachers and bus drivers and others, many on the same evening, saying: “Don’t believe them. We are not all right!” Leaders are saying the opposite, that everything is wonderful, many of them from their “zoom rooms.”

Other counties are doing more with their staffs in mind. Some, like Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg are even giving bonuses to all of their employees, including part-time workers. We, on the other hand, may have teachers and staff in quarantine during the holiday break because of possible exposure. Something about this breaks my heart.

For those who think that I do not care about students or learning, I disagree and would point to my record. But I also recognize a lot of parents do not feel they are being heard as they fight for their students. Let me be clear, I am aware their students are in fact struggling. When the school board started this process, we said vulnerable students should return for in-person instruction. I have requested the superintendent and his staff develop a method, an appeal process for lack of better words, for parents who believe their children are not getting what they need in this virtual environment. I stand by that position. There should be a process implemented that allows parents to advocate for their children if they are in need.

Safety is the first priority, however. We had 157 staff members sick as of the last school board meeting. I do not have a count for this week, but was told today by the superintendent’s deputy they will respond in January 2021. Last week, I had to fight to get a N-95 mask for a tier 1 staff member deemed at high risk because the $100 cost was deemed too much. 

Many of our staff members have shared their fears of retaliation with me. They lack the courage to speak publicly. I am called and emailed because some see me as the only advocate. I am not. There are others on the board, but they say we gave the superintendent the authority and must allow that to play out. I too, was supportive of that position, but the science has changed, and I want to see him changing with it as he has in the past.  

I do not see him sharing a plan for responding other than mitigation strategies, which have not been monitored system-wide. Nor are the number of staff and students quarantined being monitored, according to the report given at the last board meeting.

I have asked the superintendent to “err on the side of caution.” I am not advocating closing school this week but would support that decision if the metrics tells us to do so. 

Most importantly, we must revisit our decision to bring more students back for in-school learning January. We need to remain virtual until we garner all the facts based on anticipated surges in the virus immediately following the holidays.

Teachers who complained are often referred to as “fearful teachers.” They are in fact people who love this county. I have received emails from 17-year veteran teachers, all saying, “I Iove my job.” Many feel guilty about being afraid. We need to show them that we not only appreciate them but will take care of them.  Many want to quit but cannot afford to. Let’s not put them in that situation. They should go home during the holiday break knowing we will not only will ensure learning for students but safety for them.

The writer is the Occoquan representative on the Prince William County School Board.

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(18) comments

Justsometruth

This woman is the worst. I work one year for her at Vaughan Elementary school. She treated her teachers and staff like dirt. She did the same to the kids. It was all about test scores to make her look good. I am laughing because she is turning on her old buddy Walts who protected her and her tactics. I still remember the day the central office PE director came to talk to her about her use of the PE teacher. She tried to duck out of the building to avoid the conversation of her using unqualified staff to teach PE and the PE teacher was teaching reading or something else like that. We all had a good laugh in the lounge about that. Woman always said she had a bad heart.....but boy did she move quick that day.

JimiWeaver4

Is that you Mike Bishop? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Rembrandt

I wholeheartedly agree that all teachers who wish to stay home should be allowed to be on unpaid furlough for unwillingness to perform the duties associated with their jobs. No shame, no reprisal. Great discussion!

AdrianB

As a teacher with health concerns who also loves my job, I would sign up for this option, but it is not a choice. We can sign up for a leave of absence and if there is a job available when we are able to return, we can apply.

my_students_are_great

Thank you, Ms. Jessie! I am an employee of PWCS and have been working in person since October, four days a week, with vulnerable students. I love my job and love my students, but I do not feel safe at work. My students cannot comply with mask wearing or social distancing. Many of them need help with basic hygiene tasks like using the toilet or blowing their nose. Since October, several have come to school sick, including with fevers. Another came to school after their parent fell ill with Covid! I see my fellow educators putting their hearts and souls into not only making hybrid and virtual learning work, but also making sure students feel safe and cared about and commiserating with struggling parents. I haven't seen my own adult children except over Skype or from a distance, but my students tell me about vacations and gatherings, any one of which may expose them, and thus me, to the virus. It's frustrating that I have been obeying strict social distancing since March, but may catch Covid anyway because others just can't be bothered. I read these comments by parents insisting teachers are traveling and hosting gatherings, as if a few being careless makes it okay for others to put us at risk, and it is so disheartening. I read that teachers are lazy and don't want to work, and it's so unfair. The federal government has gone virtual and I don't read about anyone calling those workers lazy. It seems to be only school staff who are being criticized for wanting their safety to be taken into account. I feel awful for the kids having to deal with this disruption, and as one who is working in person, I see that the kids in the school building are adversely affected, too, not just the kids who are virtual. It's horrible, but this is a global situation! Teachers did not ask for this to happen any more than any other profession! Nothing is normal right now, and those insisting that teachers risk their health to pretend everything is fine are woefully misguided. Our students need compassion and so do those of us doing our very best to care for them during this incredibly difficult situation. Thank you again, Ms. Jessie!

maryj

Thank you for explaining the teachers' reality. Hope people listen.

Waiteaminute

Ms. Jessie, I really appreciate you and your questions during the board meetings. The last board meeting where some Principals and Associates told the board how good everything was going made me sick to my stomach. That is not what I am hearing from my colleagues from my school and my friends from other schools int the count. I teach 5th grade, so I'm not back in the building yet, but I feel it is. not safe for anyone to be back in the buildings yet. I can't seem to figure out what metrics are being used to make decisions, because they do not match with any of the metrics I have seen. Additionally, why are we administering SOL tests this year in elementary? And why are we using testing data to evaluate teachers this year, when schools are not being evaluated based on the test data. I am stressed like i have never been before in my career.This is my 18th year of teaching and I am thinking about leaving education. I have been asked and have gone way beyond what a teacher's responsibilities should be. Ms. Jesse, keep fighting the good fight for teachers and school staff! I appreciate you!!

maryj

Mrs. Jessie is being contacted by all levels of PWCS employees because of her concern for staff and students. Residents have tried for months to find out how the metrics are evaluated—no answer. It is difficult for Mrs. Jessie to get answers even in her position. Where is the transparency? A mistake was discovered in today’s Va. Dept. of Health School Metrics--% of hospitalized COVID patients at 15.5% should be orange (Higher Risk-- >15%) not dark green (Lowest Risk). Is this the data that PWCS is looking at in their decision-making? We keep hearing from upper management and some School Board reps that mitigations are working; yet staff says that it’s not the rosy picture that PWCS tries to present—not enough of the promised PPE, children struggling with masks—with fevers—to list a few. Teachers and children need to go back into buildings when it is safe—not at this time.

AdrianB

Thank you Ms. Jessie for speaking for and supporting teachers and all school staff. The vaccine is coming. Why would we put anyone at risk, particularly when the virus rate is so high in our county? How is it selfish to want to keep people safe? Even countries, like Germany, that have kept school open and had testing strategies in place (we don't) are closing and their rates aren't as high as it is here. We will not look back and regret choosing safety for a few more months, but we could certainly look back and regret putting so many and their families in harm's way.

Mrs. Silence Dogood

More doing, less talking.

AMHurtado

She really is trying but she is the only one of seven in the School Board. She literally can’t do more unless the Board decides to act

Penelope 77

Thank you! Thank you! Everyone needs to stay SAFE! Teachers, bus drivers, custodians, children, and their families. We do that by staying virtual as long as it takes.

PWCLiberty

PWCS failure of students isn't just individual, it is systemic. Struggle in Q4 of the 2019-20 school year was understandable. Extreme confusion and incompetence in Q1 of 2020-21 is not. And while it it case-by-case, many teachers erode empathy by making no effort to improve how they deliver learning and use technology - and worse, some who yell the loudest to "close back down" are simultaneously hosting group meetings and unofficial athletic practices. Hypocrisy on both fronts poisons the well.

Drronchapman

Where is the empathy for the students and parents you’re supposed to serve?

Oh, that’s right. It’s all about you. Let the peasants sit in isolation, pushed to the brink of depression and suicide.

How does this selfish creature ever get elected?!?

Hlosial

She isn’t selfish. She’s considering all parties. She specifically says students who are struggling should have a process to get them the support they need. Meanwhile, she is considering the faculty and staff as well. Selfish are those who remain one sided, unbending and unwilling to compromise. She offers compromise.

SCForLife484

[thumbdown] Wow. We teach kids not to name call and here you are doing just that. Did you even read the entire article where she talks about her concern for children? She cares about all stakeholders involved.

Julesvt92

Why is school the only solution to those 'pushed to the brink of depression and suicide?'

mollereo

In no way, shape, or form is she remotely writing this for herself. She is speaking on behalf of teachers and all who work for/in schools. The board is also meant to help US and no one is doing anything to help us. Teachers need to be brought into the equation and that is what this piece does.

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