Gov. Larry Hogan set the goal of March 1 for all public schools in Maryland to reopen for some form of classroom learning During his announcement on Jan. 21, Hogan said the state would consider if it should “explore…legal avenue[s]” if school districts do not make an effort to offer some form of hybrid learning.
Hogan, along with Karen Salmon, the State Superintendent of Schools, sent a letter to Maryland State Education Association asking teacher union leaders to support the March 1 goal.
Montgomery County Public Schools, which has been operating on a virtual learning model since March 2020, responded to Hogan’s urging noting that by March 1 the school system would bring back “groups of students receiving special education services and those in specific Career Technology Education (CTE) programs.” MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said the Board of Education will review a recommendation by school officials on Feb. 23 about the possibility of phasing another group of students back to the classroom by March 15.
Jennifer Martin, the vice president of Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), said in an interview with MyMCM this week that she thinks March 1 is “an aspirational goal” to return to classrooms.
“I think the governor means well in wanting our students to be getting the education they need in the best way possible,” Martin said.
Martin said “in person [learning] works best” and that educators are “eager to get back to school” especially because teaching online is more challenging for many teachers. In order for teachers to feel comfortable going back to the classroom, Martin said there needs to be a safe plan in place.
Martin noted that coordinating a return to the classroom is a “huge undertaking” because there are thousands of students with different learning needs as well as thousands of teachers with different health conditions.
“The real need that we all have is for a consistent plan that and vaccine planning is a part of that,” Martin said.
On Jan. 27, County Executive Marc Elrich announced a partnership between Johns Hopkins Medicine to vaccinate teachers. Getting one of these vaccines is difficult because vaccines are still in short supply. The Washington Post reports that about 50% of the vaccines from the partnership are going to teachers in Montgomery County. This supply of vaccines is split 50-50 between MCPS teachers and Montgomery County private school teachers.
“We would love to see the governor recognizing the realities of what we’re under right now,” Martin said. “Pressing people to return to schools is not appropriate until there’s a clear structured plan with a clear rollout for the vaccine.”
Martin said before teachers return to the classroom there needs to be the assurance that classrooms will be properly ventilated, there will be plenty of personal protective equipment, physical distancing measures in place. She said teachers also want there to be transparency about their working conditions—such as if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19—and they “want the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.”
“I’d like you to remember that learning is happening,” Martin said. “The physical classroom isn’t open but learning is happening and teachers are working tremendously hard to make the safest option right now work the best we can.”
Full Interview with MCEA Vice President Jennifer Martin
Here’s a look at MyMCM’s full conversation with Jennifer Martin, the vice president of Montgomery County Education Association.