Maryland declared a state of emergency, but not for schools
The expectations placed upon Montgomery County schools and their staff members have been daunting. Many are frustrated with the lack of transparency and leadership as COVID-19 cases soar across the county. Add a little back peddling on decision making and a dash of finger-pointing, and you have the makings of what staff and students are calling COVID stew.
While Mother Nature gave MCPS a slight reprieve requiring students and staff to go back one and half days the first week after break, it was not enough to ease the apprehension that staff and students feel about their return to school.
BOE works remotely citing governor's mandate
In a desperate plea to be heard, many took to emailing and calling the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) only to be met with a recording: “Due to the Governor’s COVID mandate, BOE staff is working remotely.” Many are calling out the hypocrisy shown by MCPS’ leadership.
One concerned citizen said, “BOE members can wear face masks properly and understand maintaining physical distancing, but are working from home. However, students are not wearing their masks correctly, have difficulty maintaining distance from their peers, and are expected to be in person. It doesn’t make sense.”
As the school district continues to face bus driver shortages, lack of teacher coverage, and a dearth of substitute teachers, staff and students will be forced to cobble together a semblance of in-person learning. School secretaries are desperate to find coverage for classes as substitutes are not picking up available open jobs. Students are forced to join combined classes or shuffled in droves to the cafeteria because there are so few teachers to cover individual classrooms.
“If kids can’t get to school, then what’s the point of in-person teaching?”—MCPS parent
Teachers are calling it management at best and babysitting at worst. Teachers are working hard to find coverage for one another, but they are losing their planning time or are late to teach their own classes. In elementary schools, if a teacher is absent and a substitute does not pick up the job, the students are split among the same grade level teachers causing bigger classes and less opportunity for physical distancing.
During Council Member Tom Hucker’s Emergency Town Hall Meeting, where more than 3,500 attendees listened to the voices of parents, teachers, and students, many gave testimony to their concerns about the return to in-person learning with no solutions provided by MCPS.
Most participants agreed that they don’t want a permanent return to virtual learning. They acknowledged that in-person learning is best for everyone. However, educators cannot do their jobs adequately when they are not given the time to plan properly or are pulled from their duties or when students are out because they are afraid to come to the building. Parents, students, and staff are asking for 2-3 weeks of virtual learning to ease the stress of finding coverage for the classes as the latest wave sweeps through the county.
Maryland declared a state of emergency, and the BOE is working remotely. However, despite that transportation is not available to every student, despite 10,000 staff and students tested posted for COVID-19 over the break, despite substitutes picking up only 25% of the open and available jobs on the first school day from break, staff and students are expected to return to school.
Negotiated contract allows for remote teaching
In an excerpt from a document prepared by school representatives, the wording on the contract negotiated between MCEA and the Board of Education of Montgomery County has the following:
In our negotiated agreement between MCEA and the Board of Education for Montgomery County for the period beginning February 23, 2021 and ending June 30, 2023, has protections for educators in individual schools that are closed due to local emergency conditions. Article 31.0 states explicitly that “unit members will not be asked to remain in a work location that poses a serious health or safety risk.”
For the initial 11 schools that went virtually, teachers and staff will work remotely from their school buildings while their students work from home. It begs the question if Maryland is in a state of emergency and BOE is citing the governor’s mandate to work remotely, what does that say about schools?
Who is important?
Are those required to be in school buildings not as important as those making the decisions? How can a school system require in-person learning when they do not provide transportation for those who rely on it? What happens to the students who cannot get to school but are not granted access to the available quarantine virtual instruction because they are not documented with being sick with COVID-19? How does a school system explain the imbalance of equity?
How will the decision regarding schools remain in-person affect your family? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
This article is a multi-part series on how MCPS is handling the pandemic in its school system.
Heather Jauquet has a Masters degree as a Reading Specialist from Johns Hopkins University. She holds a highly qualified certification to teach grades 1-8 and specialized reading instruction for grades K-12.