By Adam Pagnuccco.
Last night, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) held a town hall with its members to share its recent discussions with MCPS on a range of issues, including MCPS’s plan to reopen schools. MCEA just put out the press release below summarizing its views on the reopening plan.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATORS CORRECT MISINFORMATION REGARDING PROPOSED SCHOOL REOPENINGS WITH SERIOUS CONCERNS OVER STUDENT AND COMMUNITY SAFETY
Summary of MCEA Position on Reopening
ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) plan to reopen schools is wholly inadequate to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Many questions about how to safely implement the plan remain unanswered and there are discrepancies between what MCPS leaders told the public during a July 15 virtual town hall, and what they are telling the teachers from the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) who are trying to work with MCPS to come up with a way to ensure student and staff safety.
Masking, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning are the three pillars on which the MCPS plan rests, and it fails in all three areas.
For example, MCPS is proposing supplying students and staff with two cloth masks for the entire school year. Disposable masks will be available if students or staff forget their mask or soil it, but only as long as supplies are available. The cloth masks must be cleaned after each use, but there is no way for teachers to determine whether a mask has been washed.
Mask wearing will be mandatory, but educators have no recourse beyond moral persuasion to enforce this requirement. MCPS says mask-wearing is a “wellness” issue and that teachers should stress to students that wearing a mask keeps everyone safer. If a child cannot be persuaded, MCPS suggests the teacher ask the school nurse or counselor for help, if one is available. MCPS has made clear this is not a “discipline” issue and that teachers should not send students to building administrators.
Students will eat lunch in their classrooms–unmasked. It is unclear who will monitor students during lunch, and teachers/students will be responsible for “sanitizing” the space after eating.
For social distancing, MCPS is requiring six feet between student desks in classrooms. MCPS has posted videos showing adults pretending to be students sitting in classrooms and lining up when they arrive at school, but MCEA representatives who have visited elementary schools to look at classroom set ups have yet to find one large enough to safely accommodate students, even if class sizes are halved, as MCPS proposes. Limited bus seating means schools will have to stagger arrival and departure times, further complicating social distancing. It is unclear how schools will safely conduct mandatory drills, including fire drills and those required for active shooter threats and inclement weather.
Enhanced cleaning and frequent hand washing also fall far short. Contrary to what MCPS has told the public, free-standing, hands-free sanitizer stations will not be available at school entrances because of their difficulty to obtain. Because no additional funds have been designated to beef up custodial staffing, teachers and students will be primarily responsible for wiping down surfaces between classes. This assumes adequate cleaning supplies will be available. Building services staff will clean “high contacts” areas, but given limited time, it is likely places like bathrooms will be cleaned just twice a day. A weekly “deep clean” on Wednesday does little to protect students and staff throughout the school day on Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday.
A plan replete with shortcomings cannot ensure the health and safety of students or staff. If MCPS leaders persist with this terribly flawed reopening, they will do so, leaving educators with an untenable choice: our jobs or our health and the health of the people we love.