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I Can Teach From a Computer, Not From a Casket

MCPS teachers raise concerns that there are too many holes in the plan
I Can Teach From a Computer, Not From a Casket

MCPS teachers raise concerns that there are too many holes in the reopening plan

Photo credit: Deb Sullivan

On February 9, 2021, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved their reopening plan despite many teachers still scrambling for vaccinations. Discrete special education classes will be offered a chance for in-person learning beginning on March 1, 2021. All other programs will begin phasing in on March 15, 2021.

In his briefing on January 21, 2021, Governor Hogan reminded Marylanders that in August, Maryland authorized schools to reopen. He does not mention that schools were authorized to reopen on August 27, 2021 after abdicating responsibility for creating reopening standards to the districts.

Four days after Maryland authorized schools to open for in-person learning, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) would be greeting their students through online learning. Four days was not giving the county’s administrators and teachers time to change their entirely virtual model to an in-person learning environment. As a result MCPS will remain fully virtual until March 1, 2021.

After Governor Hogan’s press conference in August authorizing in-person learning, Maryland Education Association President Cheryl Bost responded, “The governor and superintendent abdicated responsibility for creating reopening standards and told districts to come up with their own plans indicating appropriate confidence that local school systems would do what is best for students. Today they chose to ambush and second guess the hard decisions that local boards of education, parents and educators have made to keep students and schools safe.”

Over the last few months the Board of Education, teachers, and parents have been in a push-pull for school buildings to reopen or to stay virtual.

In January 2021, Governor Hogan further fanned the flames of discord between parents and teachers when he said that opening schools, “…is not contingent on waiting until every teacher is vaccinated,” and “Kids need an opportunity at LEAST to get an education after a year of not getting one.” He dismissed the hard work teachers have been putting in to provide a rigorous virtual learning environment.

Despite more than 60% of students choosing to stay virtual, there are still parents who have not only pushed for the reopening of school buildings for in-person instruction, but also to speed up the process. Less than a classroom’s worth of parents and students showed up at MCPS Headquarters on Saturday, February 20, 2021 to further protest the timing of when in-person instruction will begin in Montgomery County.

When the Montgomery County BOE approved the reopening plan, they had not addressed teachers concerns about 1) not getting vaccinated in time for them to be in person, and 2)simultaneously teaching (teaching students in person through a screen while also teaching those who have chosen to stay virtual.

Photo Credit: Deb Sullivan

The MCEA is demanding the following before in-person instruction begins:

  • MCPS implement a contract tracing and COVID 19 testing plan. (As of right now, schools will NOT be testing students or doing temperature checks before students enter the building.)
  • MCPS adheres to the guidelines established by the CDC.
  • MCPS provide all employees the opportunity to be vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

Teachers Harbor Concerns:

  • Simultaneously teaching virtual and in-person students.
  • Appropriate and adequate planning time.
  • The ability to be immunized before returning to the building.
  • Students wearing masks their masks appropriate and throughout the duration of the school day.
  • Teacher coverage for when there is a staff shortage.

On February 16, 2021, a week after the Maryland Board of Education (BOE) shared its reopening plans, the Montgomery County teacher’s union overwhelming voted no confidence in the BOE’s reopening plans.

On February 23, 2021, the Montgomery County Board of Education listened to more testimony from medical professionals, teachers, parents, and students about their plans to reopen schools for in-person instruction and learning.

In response to the opening plan, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) planned a car picket and rally on February 23, 2021 at MCPS Headquarters at 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.

Members, parents, and community supporters were encouraged to arrive at 4:30pm. Due to the overwhelming number of supporters, the rally started earlier at just before 5pm. There was an option to attend the rally through Zoom and teachers saw more than 900 supporters via MCEA Zoom and the live Facebook Feed.

In a video message to MCEA members, Christopher Lloyd president of the Montgomery County Education Association urged teachers and community members to sign up and show up at the rally if they believed:

  • A safe and healthy workplace is a fundamental worker and student right.
  • A more rigorous, timely, and clear contact tracing program is needed.
  • Air quality, filtration, and exchange rate are critical.
  • Sustainable and properly resourced model (for teaching).
  • Believe the almost 100,000 virtual students, many of whom are Black, Brown, and impacted by poverty deserve more resources.
  • The opportunity for immunization is important before putting educators in buildings.

When asked why she was attending the rally, Deb Sullivan, MCPS High School Math teacher, responded, “I feel a strong obligation to my coworkers and students who do not yet feel safe returning to the school building. I had to stand up and say that this plan is not supported by teachers, administrators, or support staff. And the majority of students at my school have chosen to continue learning from home. I couldn’t sit by and let only the loudest group be heard. We made some noise today. We deserve to be listened to.”

Many teachers, like Ms. Sullivan, have shown up every single day to teach students through virtual learning. They have changed their platforms, their teaching style, and developed new methods of reaching their students.

Photo Credit: Deb Sullivan

What many families fail to realize is that a return to in-person learning will not be a return to what classrooms looked like prior to the pandemic. Students will be spaced apart. There will no longer be shared materials. Students will sit at individual desks or tables away from their peers. Students will have to remain masked throughout the school day. Teachers will continue teaching through the chromebooks to both groups of students: in-person and virtual.

Many teachers have gone out of their way to drop off materials at their students’ homes, stood outside in the cold to hand out art materials, and planned materials drop offs and picks ups at their schools. This is in addition to the time they have already spent planning, teaching, and grading.

They miss their students. But they shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their health or the health of their family members. As one teacher’s sign shows, “When I said I was dying to get back in the classroom, I didn’t mean that literally.” Another’s said that he could “Teach from a computer screen, but not from a casket.”

To ask teachers to worry not only about their health and safety,but also the safety of their students adds one more thing to their already overtaxed mental load.

To dismiss their hard work is to not appreciate everything they have done for their students.

Now it’s time to show up for the teachers and support them the way that they have supported their students and communities all year long.