Teachers Vote No Confidence on Return to School Plans; Superintendent Is ‘Perplexed’

Elected worksite representatives from the Montgomery County Education Association “overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence” with Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education’s unanimous vote to return to the classroom beginning in March. MCEA also asked for a meeting with the BOE.

In the resolution, the teachers union called MCPS’ plans inadequate and demanded that all school employees have the opportunity to get vaccinated before returning to the buildings. The resolution also asks that a “coherent” contract tracing weekly diagnostic testing plans be put in place before anyone returns to the classroom.

MCEA also requests that ventilation in all buildings comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MCPS Supervisor of Communications Gboyinde Onijala called MCPS’s return to school plan “a comprehensive recovery plan that prioritizes the safety of students and staff and the continued academic growth of all students.”

Onijala’s statement also noted, “While we understand that staff may have some questions and concerns, these plans were developed with input from a diverse set of MCPS stakeholders and are reflective of the district’s commitment to fostering a partnership that benefits our students, staff and community. We look forward to welcoming the first group of students back to our buildings on March 1 and March 15 and know that our staff is committed to meeting the needs of students both in-person and virtually.”

MCEA’s elected representatives met Feb. 15 in an emergency meeting. According to a news release, more than 1,000 members and representatives attended.

A return into school buildings “cannot be successfully implemented” unless more staff, resources and space are provided, according to the resolution. Also, an emphasis on staffing needs to be worked out for those schools that serve students of color and students impacted by poverty “without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.”

“MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators,” according to the release.

Wednesday afternoon, both members of the BOE, who said they were “deeply disappointed” and Superintendent Jack Smith, who said he was “perplexed,” issued statements following MCEA’s resolution.

The BOE stated, “Given the challenges we have faced, and the challenges ahead of us, the Montgomery County Board of Education (Board) is deeply disappointed in the Montgomery County Education Association’s (MCEA) recent actions regarding school reopening. During the last 11 months, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) administration has spent hundreds of hours engaging with MCEA leadership and reached tentative agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding on February 12. The Board believes in collaboration with all stakeholders, including our teachers’ union.”

The BOE’s statement continued, “However, collaboration does not supplant the singular responsibility and authority of the Board to make decisions about MCPS.” It also noted “There is no perfect plan and no decision without consequences. We will continue to review and adjust our strategies to fulfill our core mission of ensuring that every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social-emotional skills to be successful in college and career.”

Smith, who called the return to school plan “comprehensive” and said it “prioritizes the safety of students and staff,” expressed surprise with MCEA’s vote of no confidence. “[T]hese plans were developed with input from a diverse set of MCPS stakeholders and are reflective of the district’s commitment to fostering a partnership that benefits our students, staff and community.”

He noted that the union’s vote came on the same day as the release of the joint Memorandum of Understanding surprised him. He added that the recovery plan arose from discussions and collaborations with MCEA.

Smith concluded, “We look forward to welcoming the first group of students back to our buildings on March 1 and March 15, and know that our staff is dedicated to meeting the needs of all our students. ”

Richard Montgomery High School Principal Damon Monteleone tweeted that while he “is not judging MCEA’s no confidence vote,” principals “just want all the variables to be fixed and something final to be in place so we can know, once and for all, what we are planning for. The target keeps moving and we are the last to know.”

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Suzanne Pollak

About Suzanne Pollak

Suzanne is a freelance reporter with Montgomery Community Media. She has over 35 years professional experience writing for newspapers, magazines, non-profit newsletters and the web.

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