By Amanda Velleco
Pittsboro, NC – It has been brought to my attention that since my departure from Chatham County Schools, my unsettling experience has yet to be addressed in the school setting. I have been encouraged from numerous parties to share my story. The letter below was sent to the school board on 2/14/22 and I received no follow up from any of the board members or Chatham County Schools employees regarding what transpired in my classroom.
Good morning Dr. Jackson, Members of the Board, and CCS employees,
February 1st was my last day as a first grade teacher in Chatham County. My mental health was at an all time low especially after teaching through the onset of COVID-19 and the disaster of hybrid learning. I still decided to show up and teach summer school (4 days a week, 8 hours a day, for 6 weeks) in hopes of closing the gap for students who were significantly behind due to the pandemic. My heart has always felt called to education but at this moment I feel that it does not outweigh my physical and mental well being. I used to LOVE being a teacher. I used to feel proud to share with strangers I met that I teach first grade. The past 2-3 months have really put that fire out in my soul. Our kids deserve more than the shell of the teacher I used to be.
If you have never taught first grade I am here to tell you that it is one of the most difficult grades to teach, even pre-pandemic. At the beginning of this school year my 7 person team of teachers consisted of 4 teachers with varying experiences and 3 first year teachers all of whom were lateral entry and needed significant support getting their classrooms up and running to start the year off smoothly. I put my own classroom setup behind in order to give all 3 of these teachers assistance with this task. I also had to give a majority of the team a crash course in 1st grade because 5 out of the 7 had never taught the grade level pre-pandemic. Ultimately my peers voted me as the team lead and I was happy to fulfill this role but honestly, I was so exhausted and the school year hadn’t even begun. The first few weeks of school were HARD. Not only was I trying to keep my teammates afloat and be positive but I had so many behavioral issues in my room. It became very apparent that these 6 year olds were not ready to return “business as usual”.
Ultimately I reached my breaking point in December after WEEKS of escalating behaviors from one of my students (which were documented) that administration seemed to do very little about. This student would leave the classroom without permission while I was teaching, throw things across the classroom, tear things off the walls, stand on chairs/desks/counters, kick/hit/pull my hair, and would frequently invade my personal space while I was mid lesson.
One day this student attempted to put her head up my dress and she started grabbing at my breasts and genital region repeatedly. I used my walkie -talkie to call for help but all I heard was “____ did you copy?”.
Nobody ever came to my rescue.
I felt so alone at that moment but I had a class of 15 other first graders who were all looking to me to help them learn. Following that day I took 2 days off in December (9th & 10th) in hopes of regrouping and getting myself in a better space mentally. On one of those days I had a phone conversation with my principal where I begged for a part time assistant in my room and pleaded that learning was being lost for my other students. I was promised support for this student going forward upon my return on Monday (December 13). From that specific Monday up until my final day in the classroom (February 1) I had the “promised” support for 5 total school days.
The lack of response to my call for help was unacceptable and absolutely irresponsible of my supervisor. I feel failed by Chatham County Schools and that my well-being was not a priority. Staff members deserve to feel that their place of work ensures the safety of not only students but themselves as well. This should be paramount at every single school in the county. As stated in Board Policy Code: 1500 Governing Principle – Safe, Orderly and Inviting Environment– A system of excellent schools creates and maintains a safe and orderly environment where staff and students are focused on and excited about learning. The board’s vision for creating and maintaining a safe, orderly, and inviting environment is expressed through the various board policies. At this time I do not feel as if this standard is being upheld at Chatham Grove.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I am unfortunately unable to be at today’s meeting in person but I look forward to attending and speaking at the March meeting.
Amanda C. Velleco