WINDSOR, Vt. — A school board member from Windsor, Vt., has apologized and resigned after making a profane comment about teachers who are concerned about reopening schools during a board discussion last week that was streamed on Google videoconferencing software.
“The team has spent numerous hours and thoughtful consideration on this plan and I’d like to apologize for inappropriately expressing frustration on the data regarding school opening from teachers’ perspective,” Mount Ascutney School District board member Beth Carter wrote in a message to the board Sunday. “I feel it is in [the] best interest for the board to continue without my support.”
During a meeting of the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union board last Thursday on the plan for reopening schools, Curriculum Director Angela Ladeau presented a recent survey that showed most teachers are largely uncomfortable about the prospect of returning to the classroom due to fears over the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a question-and-answer session with Ladeau about 19½ minutes into the meeting, Carter, who apparently had not muted her audio during the call, could be heard saying “f----ing teachers” under her breath. She then appeared on screen, a feature of video-conferencing software that shows the person speaking.
No one addressed the comment during the meeting, and Carter did not elaborate. She spoke later in the meeting in support of reopening schools, saying that nearly 80 percent of parents would allow their children to return to school and suggesting that parents weren’t getting enough of a say in the discussion.
“I’m not hearing the parent voice here,” she said.
More than 70 people were streaming the meeting. Windsor parent Ashley Rich, who is a teacher in Springfield, Vt., posted a video of the meeting to her personal Facebook page Saturday, saying the profane comment showed a “blatant lack of respect and kindness” to teachers.
Carter resigned the next day. She did not return a call on Tuesday seeking comment.
“The board obviously does not share Beth’s sentiment, or condone the manner in which it was expressed,” WSSU board member Elizabeth Burrows said in an email to the Valley News Tuesday. She said the Mount Ascutney School District board, which she chairs, had not met to discuss the resignation or what to do about the new vacancy on the board.
Catharine Engwall, president of the teachers union and a teacher at Windsor High School, issued a statement to board members Tuesday, saying union members “share your regret about the resignation and the events that led up to it” and thanking the board for “looking out for students and faculty.”
“We feel unfortunate that [Carter] felt that way,” Engwall said in an interview Tuesday. “Nobody likes to hear comments like that.”
She added that the incident comes in the midst of a tense situation as the school district looks at how to reopen safely. Late last month the district announced a reopening plan, which includes safety measures such as required masks and regular health checks. Other parents can register to have their students do remote learning, according to an update from the district.
“I think there’s tension on all sides. Not every parent wants to send their child back to school but they can’t keep them at home,” Engwall said.
During the presentation last week, Ladeau said the survey showed around 75 percent of parents plan to send their children to in-person school, while around 25 percent plan to do homeschooling or a remote-learning option.
Meanwhile, teachers were asked to rate their feelings about reopening on a 1-to-4 scale with the lower end being “nothing will make me comfortable.” The average answer was two, Ladeau said.
Several teachers elaborated on their concerns during the meeting last week, with many saying they were worried about their health and the health of their families and students.
“Given the chance to stay home where it’s safe, I prefer that,” Keighan Eaker, a social studies teacher at Windsor High School said during the meeting, adding that her husband has a compromised immune system, which makes her more concerned for his health. “I’m just incredibly afraid.”
Kirsten McNamara, a 2nd=grade teacher at the Weathersfield School, said she also has underlying conditions and that she’s worried about the virus spreading among students, even with precautions in place.
“Being around kids for over two decades now, I’m very concerned about the children being able to deal with this,” she said.
But others, like Windsor School nurse Elizabeth Martens, tried to assuage concerns, saying teachers wearing face masks and shields will be largely protected from catching the virus, and saying the district has a “great plan” for reopening.
This is the second time in recent months that a member of the Mount Ascutney district has come under fire for public comments. In June, Windsor School Principal Tiffany Riley was put on paid administrative leave after making comments on her Facebook page that were seen as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. The board has since voted to terminate Riley, pending mediation and a hearing.
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