Amid omicron surge, Montgomery Co. teachers union issues no confidence vote in school leadership

As COVID-19 cases rise and student and teacher absences mount, Montgomery County Public Schools’ largest teachers union is calling on the Board of Education to do more to address the disruption.

In a vote this week, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Education Association overwhelmingly passed a resolution of no confidence in MCPS leadership.

“MCPS executive leadership’s decisions have exacerbated challenges that our county has been facing, such as educator retention, closing the opportunity gap, engaging marginalized communities, and fulfilling special education requirements,” the resolution stated.

The resolution also cited what it called failures related to COVID-19 testing for students and staff and the high numbers of student absences and staff shortages, as well as a lack of transparent communication.

The resolution also pointed to a lack of collaboration with students, parents, teachers and other staff before the implementation of new policies.

“As a result, changes in operations have been both ill-considered and poorly implemented, seriously hindering teaching and learning, as well as alienating and sowing divisiveness in communities ravaged by this pandemic,” the resolution stated.

School officials were appearing before the Montgomery County Board of Education Thursday.

WTOP has requested comment on the union vote of no confidence.

In an interview with WTOP, Jennifer Martin, president of the union, expressed her frustration with the lack of planning to keep county schools safely operating. Just last week, the school system said it was scrapping its plan that outlined the exact thresholds for when schools would switch to virtual learning.

Martin called the replacement plan, under which administrators will decide whether to shift schools to virtual learning on a case-by-case basis, vague and confusing.

“We need better communication. We need more transparency. And we’re asking to be a part of collaboration to look for solutions,” Martin said. “We need a plan now.”

Martin said the effects of MCPS’ lack of leadership has affected school functioning at all levels, citing the bus driver shortages that stalled county bus routes as students returned from winter break.

Martin said she’s had preliminary meetings with Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight to address the concerns and said more discussions are in the works.

“Most of us are hanging in there because we really care about the kids that we serve and we grow attached to our classes; we want to see them through. But there’s a point where you can’t do the job anymore,” she said. “When summertime comes, we’ll see how many people are signing up to be here again next year.”

Danillya Wilson, first grade teacher at Wheaton Woods Elementary School and the union’s secretary, said teachers are under unprecedented strain.

“Everyone in my building is overwhelmed and overworked,” Wilson told WTOP. “We’ve missed lunch breaks; we spend hours that bleed into weekends on uncompensated time caring for our students. Nobody is able to do their job. And so because of that, students are not receiving a robust instruction.”

Teachers, Wilson said, “are just trying to hold a building together.”

Wilson said the lack of consistent and clear communications have left teachers feeling in the dark.

“We don’t know what is and isn’t safe,” Wilson said. “Our elected officials have dropped the ball. And as educators, we’re often the ones who have to stop and pick that up. So we really want MCPS to change their course immediately.”

The union’s resolution demanded immediate action by the school system to address its concerns, including clear thresholds for COVID-19 outbreaks that would prompt schools to make a temporary virtual shift.

This vote isn’t a first for the union. The Montgomery County Education Association also issued a vote of no confidence in February 2021, citing concerns over the board’s reopening plan.

Elsewhere in the region, the Washington Teachers’ Union passed a no-confidence resolution last fall in reaction to DCPS’ school reopening plan.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan and Jack Moore contributed to this report.

Lauren Hamilton

Lauren Hamilton is an Associate Producer at WTOP. She is a senior student at the University of Maryland, having written for a variety of campus publications and as a reporter at the campus radio station, WMUC 88.1. She began as an intern with WTOP in the summer of 2021.

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