The Cape teachers union president stated Sept. 10 that the union, Cape Henlopen Education Association, voted to take a position of no confidence in the school board and superintendent, but Cape district officials say the actual vote data show less than half of teachers voted to support the union’s position.
In a Sept. 11 statement, Superintendent Bob Fulton said the most recent vote was the second time in the past few weeks that CHEA leadership voted to take the no-confidence question to its membership.
“Both attempts resulted in less than half of their members supporting the position,” Fulton said.
For the first vote, Fulton said, 196 out of 459 total members, or 43 percent, voted to support the position. For the second vote, 213 out of 459 members, or 46 percent, voted to support the position.
“In Cape, we have 1,127 total employees, so this vote represents only 19 percent of our total staff members and 38 percent of our professional staff,” Fulton said.
By email Sept. 11,CHEA President Lacey Brown said Fulton’s numbers were inaccurate; she said not all union members voted, and that the union only surveys member teachers.
“I don’t know where he got those numbers and they were never validated with the CHEA, and when adding in all district staff to his statement, which we do not represent, we find it inappropriate,” Brown said. “We only represent teachers in the district, and we have 459 members. We did take two votes to give more people a chance to have a say. The majority of both votes voted in no confidence; the final vote was 296 people voted, of which 213 voted no confidence, which is an overwhelming majority of those that voted.”
Brown said to her knowledge, there are 522 total teachers in the district, of which 459 were CHEA members at the time the survey was released. Brown said the survey, in which respondents were anonymous, polled only CHEA union members, not the entire professional staff nor all 1,127 district employees. New hires who joined the union were not included in the survey, she said.
“There were members who did not vote, and the union respects their choice whether to vote or not,” Brown said. “Ultimately, this vote is not about numbers or creating a divide with the school board, the community or Mr. Fulton. It is about safety and the timeline to implement it before Sept. 16.”
District officials said they stand by their data; they said they represent all staff members and that only 213 out of 1,127 employees voted no confidence.
Fulton said he was disappointed and surprised by the union’s position statement.
“We feel incredibly confident in our reopening plan, as do our families who have overwhelmingly supported our efforts with nearly 70 percent of our students' families choosing in-person instruction for their children,” Fulton said, adding that the district comprises 6,000 students, and 12,000 parents and guardians.
This summer, Fulton said, CHEA leadership submitted hundreds of questions to district administrators.
“They were answered in a timely manner, and all have been answered at this time,” Fulton said. “I am equally confident that our team of teachers, support staff and administrators will continue to work together to provide the very best education we can for our Cape students. Although this announcement is disappointing, it does not impact our decision to start school as planned on Wednesday, Sept. 16.”
In her statement, Brown said the union voted to take the position of no confidence in the Cape school board and superintendent regarding their plan and timeline to reopen schools. Brown said many parts of the approved reopening plan were ambiguous, and don’t provide consistent standards that ensure teacher and student safety.
Brown said CHEA submitted 90 implementation questions to the district office July 17, and that some questions remain unanswered. She said CHEA leadership met with Fulton, board President Alison Myers and board Vice President Jason Bradley Aug. 17 to discuss safety concerns, but no resolutions or viable solutions were proposed.
“Our discussions have centered around specific parts of the plan, including implementation of adequate social distancing, mask wearing, cleanliness of buildings, sanitization, adequate supplies and transportation concerns,” Brown said.
Brown said she hoped the vote of no confidence would bring to light concerns of union members, and create a more open and collaborative discussion among stakeholders.
“We would like to make it abundantly clear that this vote of no confidence is not about teachers not wanting to return to work,” she said. “This vote is strictly about CHEA’s belief that the approved plan cannot be safely implemented in the time frame given. Our teachers want nothing more than to return to their classrooms and do what they love, teach their students. But only when it is safe to do so.”
Myers said the school board was disappointed to receive the email stating CHEA’s no-confidence position, and said the board encouraged the union to keep lines of communication open among building administrators, the district office and school board.
“Although this is not the situation we wish to be in with our union, we still have confidence in all of our staff, including administrators, teachers and support staff, to provide our students with a safe and successful hybrid school year,” Myers said.
Delaware State Education Association spokesperson Shelley Meadowcroft, who distributed the CHEA news release, said DSEA does not take positions on local issues.
Several times, Gov. John Carney has held up the Cape district as a model for schools preparing to open this fall.
“Cape Henlopen is the district that has the most robust [hybrid instruction],” he said at his Sept. 1 press conference. “I would like to see more of that.”