There is no productive reason for this ongoing war of words through letters, newspaper columns and press conferences between the governor, the state superintendent of schools and the teachers’ union.
The focus needs to be ensuring public schools are as safe as possible while committing to the highest level of in-person instruction as possible. The political pressure from both sides, phony threats over pay and benefits being withheld if teachers do not return to the classroom and dramatic conclusions based on suspect research must be abandoned. We need to get teachers and children in school because it can be done safely. Worcester County is confirming it can be done.
There is risk associated with teachers and students being in school. However, the same peril exists in such mundane activities as going to the grocery store or hardware store. Parents should have the options of sending their kids to school. A great majority will opt to do so, as they realize virtual learning at home is lacking. Besides the obvious educational shortcomings, online learning hinders emotional and social maturation.
Gov. Larry Hogan and State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon get it. In fact, in a video message to families Tuesday, Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor relayed what Salmon told him during an on-site visit at local schools last Friday. Taylor said Salmon called Worcester County, “A model for the state on how we are aggressively approaching our students returning to in-person learning.”
An aggressive tact with an understanding of the risk balanced by safety protocols is needed. State and federal governments need to be focused on providing school systems equitably with the funding needed to safely reopen. Otherwise, these calls to reopen schools for in-person instruction are unfunded mandates. Schools do not have what they need to safely operate, according to Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost. She encouraged the state’s leaders to quit the tough talk and threats and focus on getting teachers vaccinated and ensuring schools have what they need to safely reopen. She maintains both efforts are lacking in areas of the state. It’s not the case in Worcester County.
Though mistakes have been made, Worcester County Public Schools by and large have managed the pandemic well because there is a state commitment to in-person learning. The vary nature of the pandemic and the climate of the community’s health requires a reactionary front, despite best practice in leadership suggesting a proactive approach. It’s been an impossible situation, one requiring constant pivoting.
For example, a hybrid return model was ruled out Oct. 26 as an option. In late October, Taylor said, “… we do not intend to move to the alternating week model. … At this point that model would serve as more of a backward step in our recovery efforts and could possibly cause chaos and confusion for our families which is in no one’s best interest. …”
Three months later to the day, in an example of how much can change, Taylor announced the hybrid model will be the norm starting Feb. 8 with the remaining 70% of students being assigned as “A week student” vs. “B week student” in a weekly rotating. The first 30% of students in school currently would remain on a daily basis.
Reopening schools in a safe manner requires fluidity, and Worcester County has demonstrated an ability to adjust as needed. Other school systems have done the opposite and been too conservative. We prefer the local aggressive approach than an overly cautious one seen elsewhere.