Just days before the first day of instruction for Frederick County Public Schools, a board member suggested delaying the start date by a week.
Frederick County Board of Education member Liz Barrett announced in a tweet Wednesday morning that she had asked her fellow board members to consider delaying the first day of school, which is this coming Monday, Aug. 31.
“This Board member does not believe FCPS teachers and staff and students and families have the tools, support, access, and consistent direction to open...I have asked fellow Board members to delay school start a week to allow time for many systemic improvements,” the tweet said.
In a subsequent email, Barrett said she feels the school system is unprepared to begin instruction and that there are still too many unresolved issues surrounding virtual learning that could end up having an impact on policy and curriculum.
“We need to step up leadership. Hope and positivity are not strategies here,” Barrett said.
However, after a day of back and forth with other board members, a statement was issued late Wednesday from the Board of Education, with Barrett’s name included, asking the FCPS community to be patient with the rollout of the virtual model. Modifications are bound to be necessary, the statement said.
“This is, and will continue to be, a learning process for all stakeholders....with the current situation, all preparation that occurs in a regular year has multiplied,” the statement read. “Our educators are attempting something they have never experienced themselves, and yet they are already making amazing strides with designing virtual classrooms, creating teaching spaces, learning new technology, and implementing all of the other aspects of this unique beginning.”
The statement came after other board members seemed uninterested in Barrett’s request to delay the first day.
Board member Michael Bunitsky said in an email that he disagreed with Barrett’s feelings on the matter.
He said the proposals and actions presented by FCPS staff to tailor learning for individuals and schools will never be good enough for all but that they are as up to date as can be given the current environment.
“School should begin as soon as possible. Course corrections may be necessary. No one is served by postponing the start of this experiment in education,” Bunitsky said. Board President Brad Young agreed.
“We are in unprecedented times, it will never be perfect. We need to open and make adjustments,” Young said in an email.
School Superintendent Terry Alban said in an email that she understands there is some anxiety about the start of the school year, but she is confident FCPS will do all it can to make the start of the year as successful as possible. That doesn’t mean adjustments won’t be needed.
“Our teachers are professional educators who will make the necessary adjustments to improve the virtual environment for students as they go forward. This is the same as adjusting lessons in a classroom once you get to know your students better,” Alban said.
She added that it’s critical for the school system to remain flexible in what is a constantly changing situation.
“Since March, there have been many changes in regulations, waivers of requirements, new mandates...this is not going to change in the weeks or months ahead,” Alban said. “Our success as a system depends on our ability to adapt to these changing circumstances and to maintain our focus on our students. We are ready to do this as a team.”
For the first day of school to be delayed, a majority of board members would first have to be interested in simply discussing the idea.
If that were the case, then logistics would come into play. The board would have to convene an emergency meeting, set an agenda and advertise it to the public, and make a decision in less than three days.
Not only is there not enough time to go through the process of holding a meeting, Young said, but there also isn’t enough time to get the needed information from FCPS staff on what effect a delayed start date would have.
Questions about the academic calendar, school sports, and other logistics would all have to be worked out.
“You would be talking about eight to 10 minimum hours of discussion,” Young said.
Furthermore, Young said he has yet to see any evidence that shows how a delayed start date would help.
Even though her name was on the final statement sent out, Barrett said earlier in the day that her fellow board members’ comments just weren’t enough.
“While my colleagues may feel comfortable with hope and faith, I believe in processes, strategy, and clear communication,” she said.