Frederick County Public Schools teachers will take part in a virtual training session for one day next week to prepare for administering online instruction in case school closings are extended past two weeks.
As of Tuesday, all public schools in Maryland were scheduled to be closed until March 27 due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Melissa Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), said her organization negotiated with FCPS to use a teacher workday that was supposed to be held later in the year for the virtual training.
“We’re trying to deal with this the best all of us can, and I’m grateful that the school system is continuing to have open communication with us, because that is how we’re going to get through this,” Dirks said.
Specifics of the training are still being worked out, but Dirks said there are many tools FCPS can use to administer a training such as video conferencing and other educational platforms.
The training is meant to prepare teachers to move to direct online instruction with students, especially for those who do not already utilize online instruction.
“We have 3-year-old pre-K in [FCPS]. That’s going to look a lot different than what an AP World History teacher is doing with their seniors,” Dirks said. “So, part of the time for teachers next week is going to be to figure that out.”
School Superintendent Terry Alban agreed but said that she feels confident FCPS is leading other school systems in being prepared for an online transition.
“It’s not like all of a sudden in the last three weeks we said ‘Oh, we got to start developing things.’ We have things developed. ... We just have not been able to train all 3,000 teachers,” Alban said. “I still think Frederick County is leading the state in being ready to actually deliver true course material in an online vehicle.”
The two-week closure is being treated like snow days. Alban said that if the closure were extended, that’s when students would begin participating in virtual, daily instruction.
In the meantime, students are encouraged to read books and complete any assignments they were given before the closure.
For this two-week closure, teachers are off and not working, but they are still being paid.
According to Dirks, since teachers are salaried, they still receive pay even when they are not working.
“When we’re off for a week at Christmas, Those are not paid days ... but we don’t miss a paycheck,” Dirks said.
The only catch is that teachers must work the 190 days they are contracted to in order to receive all their paychecks. Dirks said the FCTA is working with FCPS to adjust the school calendar to make sure teachers work all their contracted days.
“We don’t miss a paycheck. ... If we make up these days in June, if we make up these days by not having spring break ... but things are very much in flux,” Dirks said.
Normally, making up snow days and giving teachers their full 190 workdays is not a problem. The challenge becomes if the governor decided to waive all the days schools were closed due to the coronavirus.
If the days are waived, teacher salaries could be affected, Dirks said, adding that some creative solutions could be put in place.
“What more likely would happen is we would engage in other work activities,” Dirks said. “There are lots of system things that could happen without students, but again, this is uncharted territory and that would have to be negotiated.”
Despite these potential concerns, though, Dirks said one of her biggest priorities is safety for teachers.
“We want to make sure any of the decisions ... is safe for our staff,” Dirks said. “I represent the teaching workforce, but we care very much about our support staff brothers and sisters who are reporting to work to clean the buildings and to prepare the lunches and things.”
And even though they are off, Dirks said teachers are continuing to make sure students are being supported.
“Making sure our students know that we are still there for them ... we want to make sure that this time for them is least anxiety-ridden and stressful as possible,” Dirks said. “We all got into this because we care about our students and in times like this, it makes those connections even more important.”