EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include additional information from Classical Academies Chief Information Officer Michelle Stanley on the current status of teachers working on-campus.
REGION — While many parents of students attending The Classical Academies are eager to see their children return physically to school, some teachers worry they are being pressured by school officials to return to an environment that could endanger their families, students and themselves.
The Classical Academies is a charter school organization based in Escondido with campuses throughout North County.
Originally, the school had plans to return most students to campus by Jan. 19, but due to rising COVID-19 cases, the school recently decided against returning large groups of students back to campus until February at the earliest.
“We feel the public health risk is just too great at this time and will be closely monitoring public health mandates,” Chief Communications Officer Michelle Stanley said via email.
Students may continue to attend school in smaller groups, a system the organization has had in place for several months now. Each campus, grade and class do this a little differently, according to Stanley.
“Currently, teachers are already on campus teaching small classes or ‘Zoom in Room’ classes,” Stanley said. “This is where they teach live in class to a small group while live-streaming virtually to the remote learners. Not all teachers are on campus — it depends on the grade and campus. When we welcome back larger groups on campus, we anticipate some sort of hybrid similar to what we are doing now based on teacher availability and student attendance.”
Earlier this month, the school circulated a virtual survey asking parents if they would prefer their students to stay home and continue distance learning or return to school in person.
On Jan. 4, CEO Cameron Curry addressed parents and staff regarding this survey. He announced that early results showed about 70% of families wanted their students to return to campus. The plan was to return everyone by Jan. 19.
Later that evening, in a video to staff that was obtained by The Coast News, Curry also addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” — the choice TCA employees must make to either return to school and teach or leave the organization.
“What you need to know is each of our employees has a decision to make: Either come and be with us or talk with HR and make the appropriate decisions on what you want to do next,” Curry said in the video.
Curry went on to explain that TCA is an “educational organization” that is “here for the benefit of students.”
“We want to support those students who want to come back,” Curry said. “If you’re one of those employees who do not feel safe, who has a health condition, who really has a fear or anxiety, you need to talk to HR because you are ultimately responsible for the destiny of your life.
“We want to support our families and we want to bring them back, and if that in any way, shape or form impacts where you want to be and the influence and impact that you want to have, you have a decision to make: You can either be with us or you can choose to work with HR and leave the organization.”
The video, which was originally posted to YouTube and provided via a link to employees of TCA, was taken down shortly after it was distributed when parents began sharing it on social media.
Curry told The Coast News via email that the video was taken down because an individual posted the video on social media making “false claims” and “badmouthing” the organization.
The message didn’t sit well with some staff members and their family members. Some felt the message was cruel towards TCA employees, but Curry disagreed, explaining that was a “false impression of someone not in the organization.”
“This particular video was to remind employees, as they returned from the holiday break, that we were completing our parent survey, data was showing 70% wanted more time with credentialed teachers,” Curry said.
Curry also explained that he regularly communicates with others in the organization with videos like this one.
“The video message is one moment in time and is completely out of context after months of communications, memos and emails exchanged providing our team support and encouragement,” Curry said.
An individual with ties to the organization who wished to remain anonymous noted that the survey only asked parents, not employees, if they wanted to return to school in person.
Curry said the school surveys both parents and employees often, adding that both have participated in two surveys in the past four months.
“I understand that everyone is dealing with their own emotional wherewithal and processing the meaning and intent of my message fluctuates from person to person,” Curry said. “We are providing follow up to those needing support in the same manner that every employee is used to experiencing in their employment at The Classical Academies.”
On Jan. 8, a few days after Curry’s video was posted and subsequently taken down, TCA made the decision to not return large groups of students to campus in response to the growing numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and lack of ICU capacity.