Parents across the county seem to have mixed feelings on the Frederick County Board of Education’s decision this week to implement a hybrid model for all grades next semester, barring any upward trends in health metrics.
For some, the board’s decision was a victory after months of asking — and sometimes protesting — for schools to be reopened.
Others see it as ill-advised.
Sarah Steinberg, a parent who has been organizing rallies and leading a Facebook group called “FCPS Maryland Parents & Supporters Advocating For The Reopening of Schools” said she was excited by the board’s decision.
“I will remain optimistic that the hybrid program will be an option in January and that our COVID cases will be stable enough to start. It will be a start to hopefully getting our students back to school full time,” she said.
The second semester for Frederick County Public Schools begins on Jan. 28. If health metrics are showing positive signs at that time, FCPS will reopen in a hybrid model with groups of students attending school in-person on different days. Parents who are not comfortable with sending their children back to buildings have the option to remain fully virtual.
But the start of a hybrid model could be delayed if health metrics continue to rise as recently seen across the state and county.
Lane Gregory, who has two children enrolled in FCPS, said she is fine with the board’s decision to move forward solely because she knows it will be based on the most recent health metrics.
“They aren't being cavalier in their approach; they are just trying to be prepared for when and/or if the metrics allow schools to move in that direction,” she said. “Nothing is going to be perfect, and I trust that our Frederick [Board of Education] is making decisions based on science and pragmatically what is best for the full population of FCPS to stay safe.”
Gregory added that if the start of the hybrid model ended up being delayed, she would understand. She said she's happy the school system decided to remain in a virtual mode for the entirety of the first semester. If students had to switch back and forth between being in-person and fully virtual, it could have been disruptive, she said.
“I recognize that my personal home scenario is ideal, and I know how important it is for there to be equity in the delivery of education, but the decision to have one form of instruction for an entire first half of the year offered some level of predictability and stability during a great time of unknown,” Gregory said.
On the other hand, Patricia Brooks, a parent of two FCPS students, said she was disappointed with the board’s move given the recent rise in cases. Brooks plans to keep her kids at home in a full virtual mode and said other parents need to embrace virtual learning.
“Parents are so fearful of failure, when in fact these students are more resilient [and] tech savvy than most grown adults will ever be,” Brooks said. “Parents need to stop using social interaction and risk of academic failure as a poor excuse for not wanting to take care of their own kids.”
Stephen McDow, a parent of two FCPS students, had similar thoughts. He called the board's decision “ill-advised and shortsighted.”
“We followed such good and strict protocols with Gov. Hogan, and we did so well, and as soon as we loosened, this is exactly what the experts said — cases spiked again ... if we just gave it another couple months, I'm sure we’d be out of the woods,” he said.
McDow’s son is a sophomore at Linganore High School and was invited to attend some small group, in-person learning this semester due to having an individualized education plan (IEP). McDow and his wife Rebecca declined the offer.
“We said no, absolutely not. Even if they took precautions, we just don’t know what everyone’s philosophy is because COVID has been politicized, and now people are just ignoring science,” McDow said.
On the other side of the spectrum, Debbie Malone, a grandmother of two FCPS students said she looks at the board’s decision as a step in the right direction because she often sees her grandchildren struggling with virtual learning.
“There is too much distraction on and off screen ... if they could at least be in the classroom two or three days, I think it would be an improvement,” Malone said.
Steinberg, a mother of five, shared similar concerns over virtual learning. Her kids are struggling, she said, and despite being a strong advocate for the reopening of schools, Steinberg has decided to homeschool her children until FCPS reopens full-time.
“As much as I want them back in school, we can’t mentally handle any part of school being virtual with required meetings. Nor do I want to put my kids through the emotional roller coaster of switching in between completely virtual and the hybrid program as COVID numbers are consistently changing,” she said.
Each family needs to do what’s best for them, Steinberg said, and she hopes that the Frederick County community can work together to reduce the spread of the virus by following health guidelines.
The other concern, besides the safety of sending kids back to school, is the workload a hybrid model will place on teachers and the health risk for educators returning to classrooms.
Missy Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), said in an email that the organization is closely monitoring the health metrics of the county.
“Immediately following the vote at Wednesday’s board meeting, members began contacting FCTA with concerns that this motion to move forward was taken while positivity numbers are rising across Maryland and surrounding jurisdictions are having to revert back to virtual,” she said.
Dirks added that FCTA plans to negotiate with the board on a new memorandum of understanding that will outline the unusual working conditions of a hybrid model and the expanded health and safety measures that come with it.
Dirks said FCTA trusts that the vote signals finalization of the plan, but students and staff will not be asked to return until metrics are once again under control.