The Frederick County Board of Education on Thursday rescinded its moves to implement 3 feet of social distancing and expand the hybrid model to four days a week at elementary schools.
The board met for a special meeting after receiving stark pushback from employee unions regarding the previous decisions to bring back more elementary school students starting May 3.
Since the board made the decisions on April 14, it has received a vote of no confidence from the Frederick County Administrative and Supervisory Association (FCASA), and all three employee unions filed a class-action grievance against the board, claiming there was a violation of a Memorandum of Understanding related to instruction amid the pandemic.
The current MOU was finalized in February between the board and all three employee associations.
It states, among other things, that 6 feet between students and employees must be maintained, and the only way the agreement can be voided is if all emergency protocols related to COVID-19 are lifted. If not, the MOU is set to be in place until June 30.
Board member Brad Young said during Thursday's meeting that he was supporting the motions out of respect for Frederick County Public Schools administrators and teachers.
"I'm doing it with the hope that ... they truly want to get as many kids back and ... will work starting today and tomorrow to figure out the best ways to do that," Young said.
He also reiterated that the board must be committed to bringing in students five days a week for the next school year.
Board member Liz Barrett said there is no doubt that the board and FCPS employees have the same desire to get students back in school buildings.
“I don’t see from anything that we’ve received that we don’t have shared goals here in terms of getting as many students back as possible, so that’s what needs to happen in a safe way," she said.
After the board rescinded its original decision, board member David Bass moved to authorize the superintendent to engage the employee associations in discussions to revise the MOU "to pursue our shared goal that as many students as practicable can attend in-person instruction as soon as possible this school year."
“I think this is the motion that should have been made before. I like this motion I will absolutely support it," said board Vice President Karen Yoho. "We do have shared goals. Teachers want nothing more than to have students back in the class and to do it safely and collaboratively is the way to go.”
Bass put forth all three motions during Thursday's meeting after originally voting to expand the hybrid model on April 14. He said in an email that it became clear to him over the past week that the original decisions did not adhere to what had been negotiated in the MOU.
Moving forward, Bass said he hopes the board is able to work collaboratively with the employee associations to bring back more students before the end of the school year.
"On reflection, it was clear to me that my motion [on April 14] did not in fact adhere to the MOU that we have in place at this time," he said. "I do hope that continued CDC guidance will help us consider whether any modifications could be agreeable to all parties. But this must be done in a collaborative manner that demonstrates respect for our staff members."
Board President Jay Mason said in a phone call that he is hoping negotiations on how to move forward will be finalized by next week. He also made it clear the board is not being controlled by the unions.
The student member of the board, Mia Martinez, did not support rescinding the decision to implement 3 feet of social distancing at elementary schools.
"I did not support the first motion because I wanted to make it clear that students should be back in schools wherever possible," Martinez said in a text message. "I respect our administrators' concerns, which is why I supported the other two motions, but I still believe students should be back in schools."
FCTA and FCASA leadership seemed pleased with the board's actions.
"We were hoping that ... [the board] would return to the collaborative process we've used to solve problems and keep our students and staff safe so far this year," said Missy Dirks, president of FCTA. "When you solve problems and work together collaboratively ... when you involve the people who are actually doing the work to help with the problem-solving, you always get a better result."
She added that FCTA's and the other associations' pushback has never been about not wanting to bring back students but rather about logistical issues and the board's violation of the MOU.
Dirks and Amy Schwiegerath, president of FCASA, said they are open to bringing back more students before the end of the school year if it can be done safely.
"[The board] asked us to work to the best of our abilities to bring more students into school buildings. All three employee groups had impediments that needed resolution prior to bringing additional students into school buildings," Schwiegerath said. "We've had conversations with our leadership to work towards solutions. With those solutions, it is feasible to bring additional students into the building."
When asked about the class-action grievance filed against the board, Schwiegerath said FCASA will be withdrawing its filing. Dirks said FCTA is working to resolve the matter.