Tag Archives: MCPS

Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in September ranked by page views.

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.

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Teachers Repond to Lynne Harris

Guest blog by Grace Lovelace, David Stein and Kerrin Torres-Meriwether.

Classroom educators in MCPS, such as ourselves, were disappointed by Board of Education candidate Lynne Harris’s comments to the Blair High School newspaper, Silver Chips. A potential Board of Education member should refrain from comments that add to a nation-wide, slanderous campaign against teachers’ unions. While we found her comments to be false and accusatory of her fellow educators and our Association being obstructionist, we appreciate Ms. Harris’s apology.

As we reflect on Ms. Harris’s comments and apology, it is important to clarify the following:

Montgomery County Board of Education members oversee a school system with over 160,000 students and a budget of more than two billion dollars. Board members must choose their public words carefully; they do not have the luxury of speaking off the cuff, even when they are tired.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and our colleagues across the country have been the most vital voice for guaranteeing safety for staff members and students before returning to schools and worksites.

MCEA and its educators are not to blame for schools being closed, given that we do not make the decision to reopen. In fact, over the last several months, MCEA staff and members have been hard at work advocating and collaborating on the robust virtual program staff members, students, and parents deserve in addition to safe and structured reopening proposals. We have presented MCPS with innovative proposals, including requests for personal protective equipment and adequate sanitation supplies; training for staff members, students, and parents on proper COVID-19 protocols and precautions; and a district matching program for donated resources with equitable distribution to highly impacted schools. MCEA has played a constructive role in ensuring educator seats at the table, as we advocate for educators, students, and their families.

We are proud of the work we and our colleagues do, not only in schools and other worksites but in the additional hours we volunteer with our Association. While they may sometimes disagree with our positions, Board of Education members customarily demonstrate respect for our union’s work. They must inspire confidence among educators and help establish transparent communication between the school district and families. They should promote the profession of educators and amplify their voices; Ms. Harris, in both her original comments and in her apology, failed in this fundamental obligation.

Grace Lovelace is a second-grade teacher at Brown Station Elementary School.
David Stein is a math teacher at Montgomery Blair High School.
Kerrin Torres-Meriwether is a staff development teacher at Watkins Mill High School.

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Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

School board at-large candidate Lynne Harris, who blasted the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) for allegedly obstructing school reopening, has apologized. Harris issued the statement below on her website.

STATEMENT REGARDING COMMENTS IN SEPT. 27 SILVER CHIPS PRESS RELEASE

I deeply apologize for comments I made to the reporters from Silver Chips, the student newspaper for Montgomery Blair High School. I recognize that the comments hurt and offended fellow teachers and do not reflect my deep respect and gratitude for their dedicated work to support our students.

As a teacher myself, I know how hard MCPS staff members are working during this time of crisis. Many of us are balancing the work with supporting the distance learning of our own kids — that can be a gargantuan task, particularly if you have young learners, or students with special needs. As rewarding as the work is, many of us are feeling fatigue and frustration working 7 days a week to get the job done.

It’s a bad idea to speak to the media when you’re tired and frustrated. My words do not reflect how much I value the hard work of MCPS educators. I am sorry to anyone who feels unappreciated by my poorly-worded comments. Offending hard-working fellow teachers is the last thing I ever intended to do.

I’m grateful to the many teachers and staff who volunteered for the important work on design teams last summer. I also worked on a curriculum review/writing team, which included writing a plan to bring small groups of students safely back into our buildings for specialized training. While teachers were working on these projects, MCEA (the teachers’ union) and MCPS were simultaneously engaged in difficult contract negotiations, impacting a more collaborative approach to create a plan for distance learning.

I hope you’ll read my blog below for a more thorough perspective. Teachers, MCPS, families – we all want to keep students and staff safe. I welcome a meeting with MCEA anytime to clear up any misunderstandings.

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Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

Silver Chips, the online newspaper for Blair High School, had quite a scoop yesterday. The newspaper asked school board at-large candidates Lynne Harris and Sunil Dasgupta for their opinions on the statement issued by MCPS and its three employee unions about potential reopening for in-person instruction. According to Silver Chips, Harris said the following in an email on Saturday:

Personally I’m completely frustrated that the associations, especially MCEA, would NOT get in the boat and row since Spring to help create meaningful Covid plans for teaching and learning, especially limited in-person instruction––they were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything. We need plans in place NOW to bring small groups of students into schools safely––for special education instruction, for specialized arts and other programs that require access to MCPS facilities and resources to be equitably delivered, for CTE programs that can’t be delivered virtually etc.

Harris had more to say about this topic on her website.

Silver Chips also carried a reply from Dasgupta that conforms with his guest blog on Seventh State today.

Dasgupta has been endorsed by MCEA (the teachers) and SEIU Local 500 (support staff) among others. Harris has been endorsed by the Washington Post editorial board, which at various times over the years has been critical of MCEA.

During the primary, there weren’t a lot of apparent differences between Harris and Dasgupta as both were defending MCPS’s boundary study from criticism by fellow at-large candidate Stephen Austin, who finished third, and his supporters. Silver Chips has done the public an immense service by revealing a meaningful difference between these candidates.

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Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety

Guest column by Dr. Sunil Dasgupta, Candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education At-Large.

MCPS’s decision to start the 45 day clock on potentially reopening school buildings is premature. While MCPS should absolutely be working collaboratively with teachers, staff, families, and students on a reopening plan, starting the clock before answering some basic questions is disruptive and anxiety-producing for everyone involved.

To calm anxieties and provide a clear path forward, MCPS leadership should focus on three goals in the near term. The first goal should be clear communication with all stakeholders. The second goal should be to meet student needs in the immediate context of online learning. And the third goal should be to collaboratively develop a safe reopening plan with employees, families, and students.

Clear Communication

Clear communication with the public has been MCPS’ biggest shortcoming during the pandemic. We are only four weeks into the first quarter, so it is unclear why MCPS is making an announcement on a 45 day timeline that could place some students and staff back in buildings in early November, after announcing in July that the first semester would be online-only.

In his July announcement regarding the fall semester, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith wrote, “the safest choice for our district is to remain in a virtual-only instructional model through the first semester—January 29, 2021; or until state and local health officials determine conditions in our county allow for students to return safely after the first semester.” MCPS should stick to its previous timeline in order to ensure student and staff safety, and to provide desperately needed clarity for all stakeholders.

Meeting Students’ Immediate Needs

MCPS has performed much better in this area, but there are still students who need additional resources and support to make online learning as productive as possible. Many students in certain zip codes still lack access to high-speed internet and functioning Chromebooks. MCPS leadership and local staff are focused on this issue, and they should continue to reach out in every way possible to get these students and families connected to the learning that is taking place online.

MCPS recognizes that student mental health is suffering during the pandemic and is rightly focused on providing additional support to students and staff. And the school system continues to provide meals to thousands of students on a weekly basis.

A Collaborative Plan for a Safe Reopening

While teachers and staff are doing an amazing job considering the circumstances, not every student’s needs can be met through online instruction. Unfortunately, MCPS continues to persist with poorly designed surveys to gauge what families and staff want, hindering our ability to craft a reopening plan that fits the situation.

To honor individual choices of families and employees, MCPS needs better data. Rather than running poorly-designed surveys, there needs to be a census of every student and every staff member. We should ask the question, “When do you want to return,” and offer a menu of conditions to choose from. The census could be tied to student and employee dashboards, so everyone must answer before they can proceed with schoolwork. Importantly, respondents should have the ability to log back in and change their minds by picking a reason from a menu. Rather than an artificial 45 day timer, this evolving census data should help drive decisions to return.

The MCPS employee associations must be at the table contributing to the discussion on safety precautions, equipment and materials, protocols for testing, tracing, and quarantining, medical leave, substitution, and the many transitions between online and in-person delivery of instruction. There is also considerable work to be done to assess infrastructure – especially school building ventilation – and to identify safe teaching spaces. Teachers and staff must be involved in every step of the planning process.

What Now

This difficult moment requires steady leadership, deep collaboration, and clear communication. We should be squarely focused on how to safely meet the needs of all students. By all means, we should be planning how and when to reopen, but setting an artificial timer is not going to bring clarity. It’s a recipe for confusion and further anxiety.

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Craig Rice: Follow the Rules to Open the Schools

By Adam Pagnucco.

In one of his patented straight talk moments, Council Member Craig Rice has implored residents to wear masks and heed social distancing requirements if they want schools to open for in-person instruction. Rice said today, “If we cannot control community spread, if we can’t get folks to do what they need to do, we are not going to open back our schools. So let me just be very clear. By folks refusing to do the things that we know are going to lower community spread and keep the community safe, it then in turn forces us to keep our schools closed.”

Amen, Council Member. Video of Rice’s remarks appears below.

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Top Seventh State Stories, August 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in August ranked by page views.

1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight
2. Is Talbot County Killing its Golden Goose?
3. Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts
4. Hogan Overturns MoCo Closure of Private Schools
5. MoCo Shuts Down Private Schools – Again
6. Volcano in Rockville
7. Two Districts vs Nine Districts
8. Council Drops Poison Pill on Nine Districts
9. Is the Council Violating the Open Meetings Act?
10. Friedson Asks for Answers on Private School Shutdown

Congratulations to MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart on writing our top post of the month! Laura’s excellent analysis of school construction geography was widely seen and provoked questions about county capital project decision making. Our Talbot County post saw lots of circulation and commentary on the Eastern Shore. The two major stories of Nine Districts and private school reopenings accounted for most of the rest of our top August posts. Keep reading and we’ll keep writing!

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Top Seventh State Stories, July 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in July ranked by page views.

1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks
2. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff
3. Volcano in Rockville
4. The Upcounty Doesn’t Vote and Nobody Seems to Care
5. Distance Learning May be Plan C, but it is the Best Option Right Now
6. MoCo’s Book Club
7. Elrich on Hot Mic: “Can I Say the Council is Fact Proof?”
8. MCEA President Responds to MCPS Video
9. Kleine on the Line Again
10. MCPS Releases “Just the Facts” Video

The post about a restaurant not requiring face masks was one of the top five most-read stories in the history of this blog. (That puts some perspective on the relative importance of politics!) Marilyn Balcombe and Sunil Dasgupta deserve congratulations for their excellent and widely read guest posts. Aside from those, the top posts generally reflect the top two stories of the month: MCPS’s reopening decision and the county’s ethics-challenged Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine.

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MCPS to Go Virtual Only Through January

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has announced that it will offer virtual learning only through January 29, 2021. Their community update is reprinted below.

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MCPS To Provide Virtual-Only Learning for First Semester

Plan to be reassessed in November 2020 for Second Semester

Dear Parents, Guardians, Students and Staff:

I am writing to provide an important update on our Fall 2020 recovery plans. MCPS has been working closely with county and state health officials on the potential reopening of schools. Yesterday (July 20), we received additional guidance from Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer, in which he shared that “based upon the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data, I would not recommend in-person instruction for students inside school buildings at this time. I recommend investing in a virtual instruction model until, at earliest, the completion of the first quarter in November, with consideration for virtual instruction through the first semester.” As I have shared previously, our plan has always envisioned starting in a virtual-only model. However, given this updated guidance, the safest choice for our district is to remain in a virtual-only instructional model through the first semester—January 29, 2021; or until state and local health officials determine conditions in our county allow for students to return safely after the first semester. This decision includes the cancellation of all fall and winter sports. Working with Dr. Gayles and county elected officials, we will reassess at the end of the first quarter (November 9, 2020) to determine if we are able to implement a phased blended model in the second semester (beginning February 1, 2021). We will continue to engage with our community as we continue to navigate this incredibly complex situation.

We anticipate that Governor Larry Hogan and Dr. Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, will also provide an update on the state’s recovery plan for schools this week. We will review their guidance and make all necessary adjustments to align our plans.

We continue to explore creative ways to support students receiving special services and families with significant challenges in accessing curriculum through a virtual model. We also know that this decision to extend virtual instruction will significantly impact the work schedules of many parents in our county. We are seeking the ability to allow buildings to remain open in a limited capacity for essential purposes, including meal service; to support access to technology and other materials; and for use by some child care providers.

On August 6, 2020, we will provide an updated plan to the Board of Education. This update will reflect adjustments stemming from changes in guidance from local health officials and the important feedback we’ve received from students, staff and the community. The Board of Education will vote on this plan at that time.

We are building on what we learned during the spring to provide a robust and dynamic virtual learning experience for our students. Our staff is being provided additional professional development to enhance their instructional abilities in a virtual model; we have put systems in place to ensure all students have access to digital devices and access to the internet when they are away from school buildings; and we are building in additional time for student support and learning opportunities. We are also streamlining digital tools and platforms to make it easier for our students, staff and families to engage in teaching and learning.

Our students are the heart of what we do and why we exist. There is no doubt in my mind that we all want what’s best for students. This decision is incredibly difficult as we know how much students need school for their academic success and social-emotional well-being. We take the immense responsibility of ensuring staff and student safety, educating our students and creating opportunities for all seriously. Thank you for your continued support and collaboration as we work together to meet the needs of our students, staff and families.

Sincerely,
Jack R. Smith, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

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MCEA President Responds to MCPS Video

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Chris Lloyd has released the video below as a message to MCEA members in reaction to the MCPS video on the school system’s reopening plan. MCEA had previously said that the reopening plan was “wholly inadequate” to protect the health of students and employees.

Lloyd covers a lot of ground in this video, relating concerns of worried teachers and their family members, asking which metrics will be used to judge school safety and asking what will happen if (when) students and employees contract the virus at school and pass away. He says that school preparation can be funded with a share of the federal CARES Act money received by the county but notes that the school system has not requested it. He implores teachers not to leave their jobs. And he describes this feedback from MCEA members on MCPS’s video.

Some of you told me you felt the video on Friday from our employer was condescending. That it was gaslighting. That it made you feel small. And angry. That it was another example of our employer using tactics to try and divide us from our community. That it was an attempt to union bust. The union isn’t me and it isn’t you. It is all of us as a part of the largest labor union in the country with 3 million members.

On top of all of this, MCPS and MCEA have not finalized a new collective bargaining agreement as of this writing.

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