Frederick County Public Schools students and staff will continue to operate under a virtual learning model until at least the end of the semester following two failed votes at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. 

The motions made Wednesday would have allowed the school system's youngest learners to begin returning to school under a hybrid model. The first motion that was put to a vote would have brought back all students in grades pre-K through second and would have expanded the small group, in-person learning. This motion failed four to three. It received support from Board President Brad Young, and board members Michael Bunitsky and Liz Barrett. It also received support from the student member.  

The second motion was more restricted, with only pre-K and kindergarten students coming back into buildings. It failed five to two. Young and Bunitsky were the only members who voted to support it. It also received support from the student member. 

Board members spent more than two hours discussing the reopening plans. Many seemed hesitant to move forward without more assurances in place that they could keep students and staff safe from COVID-19 if they were to return to school. 

Board Vice President Jay Mason pointed out that cases have already arisen within pods of students who are doing in-person conditioning for sports and in-person learning.

"The problem is we still have a lot of people who are getting [COVID-19]...I feel for the families that aren't having success right now. Every day at my house isn't great," Mason said. "I don't know how we bring them back in the school and do it safely, I just don't know how we do that."  

Much of the discussion also focused on staffing. Jamie Aliveto, executive director of System Accountability and School Administration for FCPS, made it clear to board members early on that it would be difficult to expand small group learning if teachers were not comfortable returning to the classroom. 

"We have said since April, we cannot bring students back into the building until staff are back into the building. Staff have to be comfortable with the new protocol, comfortable with the new way of doing business. We have to get good at it first before we expand further," she said.  

A survey recently published by FCPS said that 17 percent of the almost 3,000 staff surveyed did not plan to work in-person for the 2020-2021 school year. Young made the point that if a hybrid model was approved by the board, teachers would be required to teach in-person, per the current agreements between FCPS and the Frederick County Teachers Association.  

Part of transitioning into a hybrid model would be concurrent teaching, the idea that teachers would teach in-person and virtual students at the same time for portions of the day. FCPS staff said planning time for teachers would be increased by 30 percent in order to help with this new requirement.

Many board members seemed concerned about how staff would handle this.

"I think we're asking [teachers] with this concurrent learning plan to be super-humans," board member Rae Gallagher said.

Board members Liz Barrett and Karen Yoho expressed concern at rushing into a new model without making sure the plans are perfect. Yoho suggested waiting to move into a hybrid model until the next semester, which is supposed to begin on Jan. 28. 

"Why are we rushing to try to do a crappy job? Why don't we take the time?" Yoho said. "I know there are students hurting, but if we do this not to the best of our ability, not in the way that our teachers feel prepared, we're just slap-dashing it together and I don't see that ultimately that's going to benefit students either."  

Young and Bunitsky seemed to be more favorable to begin to bring back students.

"What we have to do is use the information that we know and put in place a plan that is as safe as possible...if we're going to sit and wait until this is 100 percent gone, we're not going to be back in our schools for two years, probably," Young said.

Since the motions failed, it is unlikely that any changes will be made to the current learning environment for this semester. Based on Wednesday's night vote, Young said he is under the impression that students will continue virtual learning until at least January. 

He said he was disappointed with the way the board voted, but he has to support the outcome. 

"I really felt we needed to get the younger ones back...because they are struggling," he said. 

When asked if there was a concern about rushing new plans, Young said he did not feel there were any hasty actions being taken, as it would have been a month until the hybrid model was implemented.

"We spent four months perfecting the plan...the health metrics are good...and it would have given us great info to see how it works," he said. 

It is unclear when any reopening plans will be up for discussion again by the board. 

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill

(13) comments

MLewis1240

I am just so sick of hearing about COVID 19 I could scream!!!! I hardly doubt any business who has opened back up since this outbreak has had major work on their HVAC system. Come on people get realistic!!!!

ma23464

It’s a tough problem. This kids need to get back to school, yet we can’t add fuel to the virus. Whatever they do it needs to be done slowly and in stages.

patomd969

So, if the flu has never gone away despite annual flu shots - do we expect Covid to go away once we get a vaccine? Don't people still get the flu despite getting the flu shot? Will kids ever go back to public school? Just asking?

vodalone

Good point. If in fact immunity is temporary or seasonal for Covid, then it it will never go away like colds and the flu has never gone away. Scientists in the UK have been warning about that for some time now saying that even a vaccine will not rid us of this virus, it might tamp it down. If immunity is temporary it will be years if not decades before Covid runs its course through the world population multiple times to become more mild like the flu or cold. At some point we have to simply move on and accept the risks as this is how nature and the world we live in works.

shiftless88

It ignores the fact that this is quite a bit more deadly than the flu. Colds are around all the time but we do not compare flu with colds because you generally don't die from the latter. That is why this comparison also makes no sense.

sarahemily

According to the CDC, the survival rate for people aged 0-19 (infected with Covid) is something like 99.997%. Then as age groups increase, the survival rate decreases slightly. By the oldest group (70+), the survival rate is still almost 95%.

jth7100

Placing hundreds of people in a box during a pandemic is what is known in education as stupid.

NewMarketParent

@jth7100

You would think that would be common sense, but every couple of weeks we all have to wait around with baited breath to figure out if the BOE will do the right thing.

sarahemily

Schools are opening across the country. I even have a friend in CA whose kids went back to school in a hybrid model last week. And somehow I haven’t heard about kids dying of Covid left and right because of schools reopening. Have you?

DickD

Just keep the kids safe until the pandemic is over!

bpswp

Until money is available from the feds and then the state to prepare schools to open safely, we are stuck. My opinion: HVAC systems need an upgrade to use the highest MERV filters, every classroom should have an air filtering machine that uses a high grade MERV filter that recycles and cleans the air at least 3x/hr; where there are no windows in exterior classrooms, knock out the walls and install windows that can be opened; masks, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer on every desk/table; the wearing of masks is not optional, etc. States are strapped for money and the feds must step in to pass a CARES act that supports education.

NewMarketParent

@bpswp

My concern is with the HVAC as well. If the air comes from the ceilings, the returns may be in the halls. That would effectively push the virus through the classrooms and out into the hallways. I would absolutely say that this is not my area of expertise, but would be interested in how the air handling is in schools.

MD1756

The money could be available if local, state and federal governments eliminated income tax deductions/credits for people who have children and place a higher burden on those governments for the services (in this case specifically education). If that is done and the money turns out to not be enough, then we can look at other sources of funding.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Already a member?

Login Now
Click Here!

Currently a News-Post subscriber?

Activate your membership at no additional charge.
Click Here!

Need more information?

Learn about the benefits of membership.
Click Here!

Ready to join?

Choose the membership plan that fits your needs.
Click Here!