Teachers and parents in Maryland are asking the state’s Department of Education to unite school districts behind a plan that would start the school year online, except for in extreme cases, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Representatives from the Maryland State Education Association, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Maryland PTA sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday stating their case.
“Caution now makes it more likely we’ll be able to transition to a hybrid model after the year begins,” MSEA President Cheryl Bost said in a virtual news conference.
The teachers and parent advocates called for Maryland to make the decision as soon as possible so that educators, students and staff members could start planning.
The state has mandated an August 14 deadline for schools to post their plans online.
Bost noted that a hybrid system that would allow some students to come to class in person could work in parts of the state where community spread of the virus is under control and the case count remains low.
However, in larger school districts, in-person learning would only be considered if teachers were willing to work with students with limited resources for remote learning.
In the Zoom conference, Bost asked the state to consider how many deaths or severe illnesses among teachers, students, parents and grandparents would be acceptable.
“The answer,” she said, “is none.”
Diamonte Brown is the head of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Her message was clear: Of course teachers prefer to interact with their students in person, the caliber of instruction is both better and more convenient. “But we prefer lives ahead of convenience,” she said.
Brown also asked the state to unify those school districts that have yet to make a firm decision about the fall. She mentioned that wealthier, and predominantly white, school districts such as Montgomery and Howard counties have already announced their plans.
In Baltimore County, where she said 86% of students are either Black or brown, and some school buildings are in disrepair, no firm decision about the upcoming school year has been made.
The head of the Maryland PTA, Tonya Sweat, said while some research has shown children are less likely to spread the virus among themselves or carry the virus home to their families, recent anecdotes have shown otherwise.
And, she said, while the research related to the spread of the novel coronavirus is growing, it doesn’t include how the virus spreads within schools, because most states proactively closed school buildings in mid-March.
“The only reason schools are not on the list is because we closed them,” Sweat said.
She also mentioned that some parents will keep their children at home regardless of what local school districts in Maryland want.
“If our state leaders can’t find the confidence, parents will not hesitate to protect our children and families from this unseen, unpredictable and unrelenting coronavirus,” Sweat said.
The group’s letter, however, did applaud Hogan for saying he would not allow his state to be “bullied by political pressure from Washington, D.C.”
The letter also laid out steps that need to be taken in the next six weeks to make sure that students can get the most benefit from the upcoming school year if it begins virtually:
- Reach a 1:1 student to device ratio as soon as possible
- Increase internet access to students and educators who lack it at home
- Continue to run school-based meal services
- Expand professional development for educators, and training and resources for students and families to increase virtual learning fluency
- Engage in trauma-informed practices
- Deploy crisis intervention teams where needed.
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know
- Coronavirus resources: Get and give help in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- DC’s National Gallery of Art West Building to partially reopen Monday
- Virus spread, not politics should guide schools, doctors say
- Parenting in a pandemic: Anxieties working parents face with back-to-school decisions
- Why it’s particularly important for diabetics to manage stress during the pandemic
Plans for other DC-area school districts
A proposal from the county has students returning in phases, by grade level, last name and school cluster once the new school year begins Aug. 31.
School bus capacity would be cut by more than 20%. Class sizes would be sharply reduced, with an aim to have all grade levels experiencing some in-person learning by the end of November.
The plan also calls for a blend of remote learning and two days a week of classroom time, with all school buildings closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning.
School will start two weeks later than planned, on Sept. 8 instead of Aug. 25. The school system is considering a fully online model and a hybrid model that would begin online and eventually include some in-person learning.
The county’s superintendent plans to propose a postponed, online-only start to the school year in a meeting on Thursday night. The proposed start would be Tuesday, Sept. 8, and all students would begin with full-time distance learning.
The largest school system in Virginia will start the year two weeks later than originally planned (Sept. 8) to give teachers more time to plan to changes.
Parents have a July 15 deadline to decide if they will send their students to school twice a week or opt for online-only learning four days per week.
Parents are being offered a choice of a hybrid system that includes in-person instruction twice per week and distance learning the remaining days, or fully online learning.
Parents have until 8 a.m. on July 15 to indicate their choices for each of their children through the county’s ParentVUE portal. Students for whom a response is not submitted will be automatically enrolled in the hybrid plan.
The District has yet to announce a plan. The school year is set to begin Aug. 31.
WTOP’s Teta Alim, Michelle Murillo and Matt Small contributed to this report.