“We must rise above politics and focus on the reality and complexities of safely reopening schools,” said the letter, signed by leaders of the Maryland State Education Association, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Maryland PTA. “If we open our schools too quickly and without adequate safety precautions, the result will be that some educators, students, and their family members will contract the coronavirus.”
“Some will recover, some will face debilitating health consequences or healthcare bills that they cannot pay, and some will die,” they wrote. “These are stubborn facts.” It argued that “a perfect solution does not exist. A safe one does.”
Deciding the question soon would help school systems set their course, it said. “Making this decision now would give every district at least a full six weeks to plan and troubleshoot around one known and understood model of learning,” it said.
The letter stopped short of calling for a state mandate, but it said “exceptions to this should be possible only in districts with the very lowest levels of infection and community spread, and with the strong educator and family support necessary in those jurisdictions.”
School systems across Maryland are working on reopening plans for the fall, which must be reviewed by education officials and posted to school system websites by mid-August.
Their efforts mirror what is happening nationally, with just weeks left before the 2020-2021 school year opens. President Trump has dialed up pressure for a full reopening of school campuses for the fall. But Hogan, speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that Maryland is “not going to be rushed into” fully reopening schools and that schools in the state are likely to take a “hybrid” approach to instruction during the pandemic.
The state’s largest school system, in suburban Montgomery County, offered a proposal last weekend to open schools Aug. 31 with online learning and gradually move toward a hybrid system that would bring students into their schools for up to two days a week. Families could keep their children at home for full-time online learning if they chose.
The plan came before the Montgomery County school board Tuesday, prompting questions about instruction, safety measures and timing. School board member Jeanette Dixon wondered how teachers would feel teaching remotely but based in school classrooms.
Emails on the plan have poured in, officials said. Among them, 17 PTA leaders in Montgomery sent a letter saying Montgomery’s plan falls short — and calling for live instruction five days a week, in each core course.
“This can be done partially online and partially in person, but students must be given the instruction that they need to meet the educational goals for the year,” the letter said.
Speaking to reporters, Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said there is nowhere teachers would rather be than in classrooms with their students, but she said coronavirus cases are up, protective gear is in short supply and schools do not have enough funding to manage the complexitites.
“Though we are in a better position than many other states, today saw the largest daily increase in cases in more than a month,” she said of Maryland.
Her organization and the others pointed out that schools are inconsistently ventilated indoor spaces, used for hours at a time; that a significant number of educators are especially susceptible to the virus; and that black and Hispanic students and their families tend to face health-care disparities that make them more vulnerable.
State education officials did not respond directly to the recommendation for online learning through the first semester. The Maryland State Department of Education looks forward to “continuing an active dialogue with stakeholders as we move forward together,” a spokeswoman said.