Education

NC lawmakers asked to halt layoffs of 220 teachers at Virtual Public School

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A portion of a promotional video produced by NC Virtual Public School outlines the origin of the school in North Carolina.
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A portion of a promotional video produced by NC Virtual Public School outlines the origin of the school in North Carolina.

State education leaders are asking North Carolina lawmakers to step in to prevent the temporary layoff of 220 teachers that would keep more than 7,000 students from taking online classes this fall.

Teachers who are working this summer at the N.C. Virtual Public School — a state-run online program — were notified Tuesday that they will not be allowed to work the fall semester to satisfy state laws for temporary employees.

The state Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education sent a letter Friday to lawmakers asking them to pass a legislative amendment that would allow the teachers to work this fall. The letter delivered to the state Senate and House education committee chairs says action is needed “as soon as possible to address this urgent need.”

“After speaking with Legislative Research staff, it appears that a short-term fix would be for NCVPS to be exempted from the 11 month requirement, as has been done for some other groups,” state education officials said in the letter. “For the long term, DPI will be working on other payment and employment options.”

If lawmakers don’t act, DPI and the state board warn that the layoffs will require canceling or reducing enrollment in half of the school’s 150 courses this year. The letter said the changes would result in an estimated 7,300 students being unable to take advantage of the virtual school’s courses this year.

The N.C. Virtual Public School allows students across the state to take courses that they can’t normally get at their regular school.

In the email sent Tuesday to teachers, the Virtual Public School said that Temporary Solutions, which handles the school’s payroll, is requiring all teachers to take a 31-day break in service. This means all teachers have to take a semester off, which means that those who worked the summer semester would have to take the fall semester off.

But the Office of State Human Resources said neither they nor Temporary Solutions made the decision to lay off the teachers for the fall semester. Jill Lucas, a Human Resources spokeswoman, said Temporary Solutions gave the Virtual Public School alternatives in May that could have been used so teachers wouldn’t be classified as temporary employees.

The lack of advance notice was questioned by the N.C. Association of Educators. But NCAE also said it’s optimistic that a solution can be reached, and that it would do everything it can to assist in quickly bringing this dispute to an amicable resolution.

“We have talked to the governor’s office and we understand they are working to resolve the issue quickly,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said in a statement Friday. “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.”

The news Friday left Melissa Barnhart, a math teacher at the school, feeling hopeful. She said she could lose $30,000 in income if she can’t work for the school this fall.

“I was hoping someone would recognize that we would need legislative help to serve students,” Barnhart said. “If someone can provide that help they’ll be my hero.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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