‘A new day’: Prince George’s County education leader on reopening schools

The leader of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, teachers union said teachers still have a lot of questions on how instruction should resume this fall, and she sees the chance for fundamental changes as well.

Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, said the basics of social distancing are incredibly challenging in the younger grades: “How do you tell a kindergartner who comes up and wants to give you a hug because they’re happy to see you that they can’t hug you?”

Even without concerns over COVID-19, she said, elementary-aged students are often just learning behaviors such as maintaining personal space. “Little kids are all over each other,” she said.

Dudley said the crowding in school buildings at the middle school and high school level also raise concerns.

“Most of our schools are running at capacity,” she said and, noting that students change classrooms often, added, “How will you social distance there?”

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Dudley also wondered about the logistics of cleaning and disinfecting classrooms, gyms and cafeterias throughout the day.

She said that the reopening could be a chance for major change.

“This is a new day,” Dudley said, with opportunities to “create the schools we want to see.”

She sees a chance to make changes so that when schools do reopen, they could include, for example, “restorative practices” — redirection of students to get them back on the right track, instead of student suspensions.

“Are we going to come back with trauma-informed education? Are we going to come back with student-to-guidance counselor ratios that make sense?” Dudley said.

She noted that a bill for school reform on a massive scale was passed in Annapolis, then vetoed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Polling on the new normal

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson has released the first results of polling of parents, teachers and staff on what the return to school should look like in the fall.

According to the survey, most want to continue with in-home instruction, or have a hybrid of some days in school buildings, and the rest at home with distance learning.

The school system plans to hold a staff-wide virtual meeting to get a sense of where teachers and staff are on the issue.

Dudley said Goldson is really hearing teachers’ concerns about how to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And, I also know she is listening about the social justice issues that we have been bringing forward,” Dudley said. “We’re going to be talking more about the social justice issues that are going on — Black Lives Matter — and making sure that our children get the education they deserve.”

The Maryland State Department of Education is requiring all school systems across the state to make their plans publicly available online by Aug. 14.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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