Montgomery Co. schools, teachers union at odds over involuntary transfers

The superintendent of Maryland’s largest school system said Monday that the county is operating within the confines of its contract with the teachers union by moving teachers to different schools as a result of a staffing shortage.

At a schools safety summit Monday, Monifa McKnight said that Montgomery County Public Schools is “working within our contract” to address staffing challenges.

Five teachers have been involuntarily transferred from Sherwood High School, said a county spokesman. But Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the number of involuntary transfers is unusually large.

Martin, who leads the group that represents some 14,000 teachers, said transfers typically occur in the spring, and that it’s rare for teachers to be reassigned this late in the summer.

The back-and-forth comes amid a nationwide teacher, substitute teacher and bus driver shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. Montgomery County has almost 400 full-time teaching vacancies, McKnight said, and is short 55 bus drivers.

“We are continuing to work with our internal staff to make sure that every school receives the staffing that it needs,” McKnight said. “This year is a bit different because we really haven’t utilized our voluntary teacher transfer process in the past two years because of COVID-19.”

Martin said she met with county leaders Monday afternoon and was told it’s unclear how many more teachers might be involuntarily transferred. As of Monday’s meeting, Martin said, the county didn’t have the exact number of people who had been told they’d be switching schools.

Typically, Martin said, teachers who are on the transfer list are those coming back from a long break, such as maternity leave.

“Given that this is happening, we need to have some remedies in place for the people who are experiencing this to make sure that they are being treated with respect and are having their concerns taken into account,” Martin said. “We will be in negotiations with MCPS about this.”

While Martin said the union believes the transfers violate the union’s contract, a school system spokesman said the county’s ability to transfer teachers is codified in the contract and by Maryland law.

A school system spokesman said transferring is a “normal process” that occurred “most years” before the pandemic, and that the county has a process to determine when transferring a teacher may be necessary due to enrollment “or another allocation issues.”

Nonetheless, Martin said, the transfer process can be challenging for teachers preparing for the start of the next school year.

“When the transfer comes this late, and it may mean that you’re changing the grade you teach, changing the subject you teach, certainly it’s going to create changes in your own personal life, because you’ve got to scramble to find child care, figure out what your commute is going to be and so forth,” Martin said.

“But professionally speaking, it really puts you behind the eight ball in trying to make sure you’re ready for the students you’re expected to serve.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Anna-Lysa Gayle

Anna-Lysa Gayle is an award-winning reporter and anchor, with five Emmy awards and more. Before joining WTOP, she spent nearly a decade as a TV news reporter for ABC and CBS news affiliates.

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