As Election Day nears, organizations around the county are making sure voters have the chance to be informed about the candidates running for seats on the Frederick County Board of Education by hosting virtual forums.
The Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) questioned the candidates on topics ranging from the reopening of schools to national and state testing during a virtual forum this week.
There are three open seats on the board. Current board members Lois Jarman and Rae Gallagher are running to retain their positions and board member Michael Bunitsky is stepping down. After a primary in April, the field of candidates was narrowed down to a final six.
A majority of the FCTA forum focused on the pandemic and how the school system should move forward in terms of reopening.
Jason Johnson said he believes FCPS should not rush to bring students back into buildings.
“I believe we should open schools in a smart, steady fashion and steady pace. The passion to get back into schools is strong and I understand that,” he said. “I am in support of keeping students virtually as long as the metrics show that we have increasing numbers [of cases].”
Gallagher said the metrics need to be clear and parameters need to be set. For example, once the school system moves into a hybrid model, parents should not be able to switch their child to in-person learning at any time, she said.
“There are going to be a lot of logistics from transportation to classroom size to number of students in the classroom that will create a logistical nightmare if parents and students can opt-in and out at any time. There have to be defined parameters otherwise the hybrid model is going to get very tricky,” Gallagher said.
Candidates were also asked about athletics and whether there should be a full return to play.
Sue Johnson said she is the safety officer for a local youth baseball league and that they have been playing since mid-July. There have been positive cases among players and coaches, but sh said they have been able to effectively mitigate them.
“I do think we can safely open all outdoor activities...I think that our public schools should have a plan that is flexible and sustainable, so that if you do have some kind of issue with an outbreak, you can shut that program down,” she said.
Jarman offered a counterpoint to Sue Johnson’s argument and said the thing she is most worried about with a return to play is equity and making sure everyone adheres to safety protocols.
“We’ve received a number of letters from parents who are very, very enthusiastic about having their children return to athletics and they are discussing carpools and driving and those sorts of things. We have to be concerned about social distancing, we have to be concerned about students who don’t have the option for transportation,” Jarman said.
In addition to pandemic-related topics, the candidates also spoke about ways in which the school system can improve as a whole.
David Bass said he is a strong proponent of making sure diversity and equity are at the forefront of FCPS’s priorities. That means making sure documents and meetings are translated into Spanish and other languages, making sure the curriculum highlights diverse scholars and authors and making sure there are teachers of color present throughout the county, he said.
“I know that my own education would have been insufficient without having teachers of color or a variety of perspectives in the curriculum,” Bass said.
Dean Rose said FCPS needs to change its recruiting tactics and think about the long-game.
“We have to do everything possible to encourage our students that going into education is a valuable position within our world and...we’ve got to go recruit existing teachers of color,” Rose said. “Once we get in line with our benefits and pay scale, we’ve got to sell them on coming to Frederick and providing the type of education that our children deserve. We’ve got to start going after established teachers of color.”
The candidates will participate in another virtual forum held by the League of Women Voters of Frederick County on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.