'You will not hold it hostage': Parents, students demand a safe in-class option for the fall semester in Cumberland County

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- More than a hundred parents, students, and community members gathered outside a Fayetteville church to voice their displeasure with the Cumberland County Board of Education's decision to remain online for the rest of 2020.

The "Pep Rally" was held outside Epicenter Church, along Fort Bragg Road. People of all ages lined the sidewalks, holding signs saying, "Safely Open Schools", and ringing bells.

Graham Macleod, a 12th grader at Terry Sandford High School, says he and his friends, William and Caleb, all want to finish up their last year of school.

"Our people need to speak up like we are and they need to listen," Macleod said. The trio also play for the Terry Sanford HS soccer team. They hope they'll have the chance to play one last season. While they understand some people may not be comfortable going back, Macleod says there should be an option.

"The online learning part is really a struggle too. It's kind of hard to find motivation, getting up in the morning and just doing classes," Macleod said.

The community outrage coming after school board members rejected Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly's plan to resume some classes in-person. The vote was 6 to 3.

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The rally included several students briefly sharing why they wanted to return to a classroom. One young boy saying "I want to go back to school because it was easier for me to learn there". A young girl adding, "in person is so much better for all of us, so please, help us to make that happen".

Christine Harris, a Cumberland County parent, spoke for several minutes, emphasizing the need to look out for students within the school district's Exceptional Children's Services. Harris, who has a background in social work, says the online-only option is taking a toll on kids' mental and physical health.

"Since COVID hit, my daughter has gained 35 pounds from emotional eating. She is now depressed with anxiety," Harris said.

Harris's daughter, Savannah, is in the 8th grade. She says Savannah, who has ADHD and was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, can only excel within an in-person environment, adding it's been difficult to give her the proper attention while maintaining a full-time job.

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"That means we have a whole list of children in the EC program who are not getting their needs met," Harris added.

At the end of the evening rally, organizers encouraged participants to contact their school board members and plead with them to reverse course.
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