UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Three of Maryland’s largest education groups want the state superintendent of schools to cancel plans to bring students back into school buildings in the fall.
The Maryland PTA, the Maryland State Education Association, and the Baltimore Teachers’ Union issued a joint statement Tuesday asking the state to start the 2020-2021 school year entirely online, at least for the fall semester.
“We need to face reality: too many schools in Maryland have restrooms that lacked soap or paper towels on a normal day before the pandemic. In the face of no additional funding at the federal, state, or local level—let alone threatened budget cuts—it is not realistic to believe that all schools will be equipped with additional and more expensive necessities to stay safe on a daily basis,” Cheryl Bost, President of the MSEA, Diamonté Brown, President of the Baltimore Teachers’ Union, and Dr. Edna Harvin Battle, President of the Maryland PTA wrote in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and Dr. Karen Salmon, the state superintendent of schools.
Maryland reported 733 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the biggest increase in infections since early June.
A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 24% of teachers have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
The Trump Administration has put increasing pressure on schools across the country to fully open with five days a week instruction, even threatening to cut off funding for school systems that resist.
Hogan said last week that he "would not be bullied or threatened by the President."
The letter from the education associations outlined the risks in schools:
- Bringing together high numbers of people in enclosed, inconsistently ventilated, indoor spaces for hours at a time
- The significant numbers of educators who are particularly susceptible to the virus (24% of all teachers according to a July 10 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis)
- The significant numbers of Black and Brown students (who make up more than 50% of our student body statewide) and their families who unjustly face health care disparities that have made them more likely to be infected and killed by the coronavirus; these students also disproportionately rely on public transportation to get to school, compounding risk before arriving at school facilities that may lack necessary ventilation and a safe learning environment;
- The lack of widely available personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for educators and students
- The challenges in ensuring that all students and staff are wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining social distance at all times
- So much that we do not know or understand about the virus and that is seemingly constantly updated by new scientific studies.
The letter said making the decision now would give every school district at least six full weeks to focus and trouble-shoot online learning. It detailed several recommendations to make distance learning better, including:
- Reach a 1:1 student to device ratio as soon as possible
- Increase internet access to students and educators who lack it at home
- Continue to run school-based meal services
- Expand professional development for educators and training and resources for students and families to increase virtual learning fluency
- Engage in trauma-informed practices
- Deploy crisis intervention teams where needed.
The groups said there’s no perfect solution, but online for the fall is a safe plan, citing counties like Garrett, with a very low rate of coronavirus, might be able to have in-person instruction.
Not everyone is on board.
Helen Barold, a single mom and a cardiologist believes that students will be better off in the classroom versus distance learning online.
“They need to go back to school, I strongly, strongly believe this. I do think it can be done,” Barold said.
Montgomery County, the state’s largest school district, currently plans to start the fall semester online but will have separate groups of students return to school buildings for one to two days of in-person instruction.
WUSA9 is still waiting for a response to the letter from the governor or the school's superintendent.
This is a developing story that will be updated once more information becomes available.