Maryland's leading teachers union called on the state Tuesday to begin the upcoming school year with online learning because of safety concerns about the coronavirus.
By deciding now, school districts would have six weeks to plan for a single, known model of learning, said Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association. Bost was joined in an online announcement by Diamonte Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, and Tonya Sweat, vice president of advocacy for the Maryland Parent Teachers Association.
The groups called for online learning in the first semester in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon.
“Protecting the safety of Maryland educators, students and families requires this action," said Bost, whose union represents more than 75,000 educators. “We believe it is the right approach and the safe one. Caution now makes it more likely that we will be able to transition to a hybrid model after the year begins and possibly a mostly in-person model later in the school year when it is safe.”
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Bost also said that school districts should explore whether a limited hybrid model is feasible with limited student populations for whom equity concerns around extended virtual learning are greatest.
Maryland school districts have been given an Aug. 14 deadline to submit and publicly post their plans for reopening in the new school year. The Maryland State Department of Education will review the plans to ensure they meet more than a dozen requirements outlined in the state's education recovery plan. The local plans will be implemented based on what stage of recovery the state is in relating to education. That will be decided by the superintendent in consultation with the state board of education.
“We look forward to continuing an active dialogue ... as we move forward together ... to deliver quality, effective and safe education for Maryland students," said department spokesperson Lora Rakowski.
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Some counties already have made options public and are continuing to review their plans.
Montgomery County, the state's largest jurisdiction with a population of more than 1 million residents and 165,500 students, is planning to begin the school year with online learning and gradually move to a hybrid plan. The chief executive officer of schools for the city of Baltimore has said Maryland's largest city isn't planning to have all students return in the fall.
Sweat said teachers, parents and students are now facing a new reality in which every child's health and those whom they come in contact with are at risk.
“Until we can get a proven response to the coronavirus, it is reckless to ask parents to return their children to school buildings, especially in the face of overcrowded classrooms and insufficient health protocols and poor planning," Sweat said.