MCPS pushes in-person instruction, but staff shortages highlight inequity

Heather Jauquet

Who benefits from the lack of access to transportation, meals, and curriculum?

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Schools are facing a teacher shortage, and lack of coverage as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Montgomery County. Many staff members are in isolation or quarantine or caring for a quarantined child. Those in the building are using an all-hands-on-deck approach, causing them to miss out on their planning time. Paraeducators who provide extra support to students are pulled for class coverage, leaving students without the extra help they could receive.

"We are not okay"--MCPS teacher sharing experience of trying to provide access to curriculum while providing class coverage during staff shortage

Not only are teachers absent, but many parents are voluntarily keeping their children home out of concern for their health. In addition, with so many student absences, it makes lesson planning difficult when teachers have no idea who will or will not be in the class.

If your child is in an instrumental class, teachers are having trouble holding rehearsals because of the number of student absences. When the students return, they have to play catch up.

Let’s talk about inequity

On Sunday night, MCPS posted three pages of missing bus routes for Monday, January 10, with an addendum posted on Monday morning for additional routes that were lacking drivers. Check their page daily to see for missing routes.

If kids cannot rely on buses, they are not going to school. At one bus Gaithersburg bus stop, the bus was 30-40 minutes late today. Students walked home because it was below freezing outside and didn’t know if their bus would arrive. Those kids missed school because they did not have another way to get to their building without transportation from the county.

Did you know that schools that provide free breakfast via grants cannot provide meals to their students due to staffing shortages? A cafeteria manager was out for one Montgomery County elementary school. The staff cobbled together meal bags quickly for the students, but students did not initially receive their breakfasts. They had to cancel dinner bag distribution at another school because they did not have enough staffing to hand out the meals. Students depend on these meals and are not receiving them.

One school sent home the rapid home tests with the directions from a different at-home test. The video that accompanied the test was only in English. Another school had directions for the correct test in English and Spanish. But the form to upload the test results for the county was in English.

Special education students are not getting access to their services because of the teacher shortage. Their teachers and paraeducators are getting pulled to cover other classes.

When there are too many teachers out students are shuffled to a central location with staff managing multiple classes. Usually students are moved to the cafeteria where they try to work while balancing their chrome books on their knees, or working on chrome books without outlets to charge them and for some no chrome books because their device is not working and there are no extras. Often there are large groups of students sometimes up to 70 working in one space. It's too loud and not conducive to working. If the teachers were able to make lesson plans online with an instructional video attached students preferred to do them on their own outside of school. Bottom line, curriculum is not being taught. It is being cobbled together.

Teachers would much rather be in their classrooms teaching their students. But at this point, they are too sick to be in the building and there are too many educators out to cover the amount of loss instructional time. There are so many teachers out building service, cafeteria workers, and security guards are being pulled to cover classes. Class coverage is not the same as teaching. It's management at its best and babysitting at its worth.

MCPS throws around the word equity like it’s confetti. But like confetti, there’s no substance when select students are granted access to education, meals, and test results. The school system’s response to the pandemic highlights the disparity across the county and the tone-deaf responses from those in charge.

Who is making the decisions?

Principals do not make the decisions about remote learning for the entire school. Moving to virtual instruction for an entire school or school system is in the hands of the Board of Education and the Interim Superintendent.

The BOE puts the onus on the state of Maryland for MCPS’s inability to decide to move to remote learning. If that is the case, then it begs the question as to why our neighbors in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County have moved to remote learning when they are in the same state.

It’s time to start asking: Where is the equity?

This article is part of an on-going series on how MCPS is handling the pandemic.

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.

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Certified educator K-12 and Reading Specialist with a focus on the adolescent brain. I write about how educational decisions affect parents, students, and staff. As an educator and parent I also focus on community events for the whole family.

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