Parents in Charlotte-Mecklenburg district file suit over remote instruction

Superintendent Earnest Winston via CMS website

CHARLOTTE — Five parents have filed a complaint against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools over the use of remote instruction only for the district’s 147,000 students.

A preliminary injunction and declarative relief are being sought in order to restore in-person instruction.

The plaintiffs, all parents, are Nicholas and Natalie Foy, Bryan Crutcher, Sandy Blakely White and Stephen Lonnen. The plaintiffs are being represented by David Redding of the Redding and Jones law firm in Charlotte.

The complaint’s overarching allegation is that CMS did not “sufficiently prepare for active instruction for the 2020-21 school year.” They claim this lack of preparation speaks to a violation of the sound, basic education guaranteed by the North Carolina state constitution.

“The main thrust of the complaint is really that the board of education did not fulfill its duties in making a determination as to whether or not they should provide for active instruction at all,” said Redding. He added later that the district’s decision making was not done very transparently.

Redding says he’s had a lot of parents contact him since the complaint was filed who want to hold the school board accountable.

Student health, safety and lack of engagement, or dropping out, are also issues listed in the suit. Additionally, the complaint addresses the lack of in-person learning having a negative impact on minority and low-income students due to lack of devices, computers and poor or no access to the internet.

The defendants named are the CMS school board, the board’s Chair Elyse Dashew, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, a regional affiliate of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE).

Included in the complaint are references to NCAE emails to the board and claims that the NCAE pushed teachers to reject in-person instruction and that CMS failed to “place the well-being of students over the agenda of the NCAE.” It also says that “members of the NCAE organized a campaign to improperly influence and intimidate board members” as well as the CMS superintendent.

“I think there is an argument to be made, and we intend to make it, that that association [NCAE] is trying to circumvent the statutory preclusion of collective bargaining for public sector employees. It seems like that’s what they’re doing,” said Redding.

Specific allegations in the complaint reference the “Our Schools, Our Safety, Our Say” petition on the NCAE website. “By acting together, we have the power to determine the conditions in which we will return to in person instruction,” the petition reads in part.

During the spring and into the summer months, the NCAE orchestrated virtual meetings and protests in various areas of the state. One such protest organized by the NCAE took place near the end of July at the old Eastland Mall parking lot in Charlotte. NCAE leadership and the NCAE’s political organizing arm, Organize2020, also ran letter-writing campaigns to pressure school leaders and state officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper.

North State Journal reached out to the head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators but a response has yet to be received.

CMS Media Relations specialist Brian Hacker said in a Sept. 8 email to North State Journal that the district has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

The CMS Board of Education had voted 7-1 at its July 15 meeting to use what was dubbed “Plan B + remote.” The original “Plan B” rolled out by the state was for a cycle of one week of in-person instruction and two weeks of remote instruction. 

Under “Plan B+ Remote,” students are divided into three groups. Those groups will get between two or three days of in person instruction for the opening two weeks of school. In week three, all students then transition to full remote learning indefinitely.  Parents who did not want to send their children to school at all were given the option to do remote learning from day one.

About two weeks after the July 15 vote, the board unanimously voted to open CMS up under only remote instruction.

The CMS board met again on Sept. 8, and a number of angry and frustrated parents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, asking for firmer plans for returning to school.

“We deserve a status update each meeting,” said parent Kristen Shambarger. “We spend as much time if not more navigating the technology than learning.”

“Mr. Winston and this board do not feel the urgency behind getting our kids back in school,” parent Trish Moody said during her public comments. Moody cited the governor’s order allowing 25 people in room, and said, “that’s a classroom.”

The school board will meet again on Sept. 16 to vote on next steps.

About A.P. Dillon 1214 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_