Montgomery County teachers union warning of a ‘great resignation’

Montgomery County Education Association President Jennifer Martin is warning the Maryland school system is facing a “great resignation” if staffing shortages aren’t addressed.

The school system currently has over 300 full-time teacher vacancies. Martin said that on any given day, half the requests for substitutes go unanswered, resulting in teachers being pulled from their lunch breaks or planning periods to cover classes. She said teachers are only being paid $15 an hour extra for class coverage.

“We are asking for $55 an hour for covering classes and other duties during our planning time. To match what Howard County public schools is doing for its educators and to demonstrate a respect for their professionalism,” Martin said at a news conference outside a Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education meeting in Rockville.

The union has a list of other demands to ease the burden on teachers, including a moratorium on new initiatives introduced into the school system, additional early release days for more planning time, and more attractive pay to recruit and keep substitute teachers.

Martin said teachers are already struggling to address the mental health challenges students face caused by the pandemic and learning loss.

“Normally, we teachers just take on added duties for the good of the students, but we have come to a point where there is no way our efforts can come close to meeting the needs of the children we serve,” Martin said. “There is simply too much on our plates.”

In a statement, Montgomery County schools spokesman Chris Cram told WTOP,  “There is no doubt that teachers are giving 100% and more.”

Cram said the school system is actively working to fill the full-time teaching vacancies.

“We are deliberately leveraging partnerships with our local colleges and universities to hire December graduates and candidates eligible for hire from our existing higher education partnerships,” Cram said.



Test-to-stay program

Inside the meeting, parents and teachers spoke to the school board, criticizing test-to-stay programs, highlighting teacher workloads and racial disparities in education.

Montgomery County Education Association representative Danillya Wilson told the board that teachers are now picking up the slack of a public health crisis and that educators need the board’s support.

“Our school system, a once thriving system, is deteriorating,” Wilson said. “Our students, facing an onslaught of trauma from racism and public health, are suffering.”

That comment followed notification that the county’s “test-to-stay” program had been put on hold and classes have been canceled the day before Thanksgiving due to staff shortage and low attendance, among other items.

Montgomery County schools spent the earlier portions of the Tuesday board meeting making calendar changes and announcing the pausing of their COVID-19 testing program.

The county’s assistant chief administrators officer noted that the program, created to avoid quarantines in some settings, was not appropriate.

“That is not to say we’re not ready to do it — if the state changes its guidelines, we’ll immediately move to do it,” Earl Stoddard, sitting as the board of health, said. “But obviously, we’re trying to follow to the degree possible what the state has laid out.”

The move caused council members and community members to call the decision “confusing,” with one council member suggesting a need for more transparency between officials and the public. One parent, Jennifer Reesman, said that this was disappointing to see “as a parent and psychologist.”

“Our children are missing out on school and are truant at your hands due to your policies and your actions,” Reesman said.

However, as students navigate a pandemic, a social environment and their education in general, the county’s teachers union highlighted that pressure falls to teachers.

Education and staffing issues

Wilson said that these challenges continued to fall on her colleagues, as literacy and readiness scores drop, with even more effect on Black and Hispanic populations.

Wilson also said that in order to bridge that gap, the board of education needs to recognize their student’s need and acknowledge the supports that teachers require.

“You took an oath when you were sworn in, and that both came with a promise to do right by our community,” Wilson said. “I’m here, on behalf of our union, asking you to honor that oath.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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