Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools has a draft plan for bringing back students in phases when the school year begins Aug. 31. But a teachers union is voicing health and safety concerns over the possible return to class.
Many questions about how to safely implement the plan remain unanswered, according to the Montgomery County Education Association. Those questions involve the effectiveness of using face masks, social distancing and enhanced cleaning.
The union, for example, claimed the school system has proposed supplying students and staff members with just two cloth masks each for the entire school year.
In response to a question about the masks, Essie McGuire, the school system’s associate superintendent of operations, disputed the assertion that only two masks will be handed out per staff member, citing the millions of dollars the school system has spent on personal protective equipment. She did not directly address the issue of masks for students.
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Another concern of the union involves students eating lunch in classrooms without their masks. The union also remained skeptical that social distancing could be achieved in classrooms.
The MCEA said in a statement, “Contrary to what MCPS has told the public, free-standing, hands-free sanitizer stations will not be available at school entrances because of their difficulty to obtain.”
McGuire said the school system is buying as much hand sanitizer as it can find, in as many forms as it can, but conceded that some types are harder to find in the marketplace than others.
The union added that it believes much of the responsibility for cleaning will fall to teachers and students.
“Speaking not for everyone but just for myself, I think we’re scared,” for both themselves and their students, one teacher, who asked not to be identified, told WTOP. “I think we’re just scared and worried.”
Under the school system’s plan, which calls for a blend of remote learning and two days a week of classroom time, students would return to buildings in phases, by grade level, last name and school cluster.
The goal would be for all grade levels to experience some in-person learning by the end of November. All school buildings would be closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning.
But, the MCEA argued, “A weekly ‘deep clean’ on Wednesday does little to protect students and staff throughout the school day on Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education said that it and the school system will always “prioritize the health and safety of our students, staff and community … Any decision to move from a virtual environment will be informed by science and determined by the public health conditions in Montgomery County and with the advice and counsel of public health experts.”