The League of Women Voters of Frederick County originally decided not to ask the board of education candidates during a Tuesday night forum about what their requirements would be to bring Frederick County Public School students back into buildings.
However, after viewers of the forum, which was live-streamed on Facebook, began commenting on the live stream and demanding that the question be asked, the LWV changed course.
"There's apparently a revolt going on on Facebook. People are not happy that we are not letting you talk about when to send students back to school," said Betty Mayfield, the forum's moderator. "So never let it be said that the League of Women Voters is unresponsive to our public."
All six candidates who are on the ballot dictated specific things they would like to see in place before bringing students back to in-person learning.
There are three open seats on the Frederick County Board of Education. Current board members Lois Jarman and Rae Gallagher are running to retain their positions and board member Michael Bunitsky is stepping down.
David Bass and current board of education member Rae Gallagher both said that before schools are reopened they would like to see vacant school nurse positions filled and Bass specifically pointed to FCPS's contact tracing plan which he said would need to be developed more before he would feel comfortable sending students back to school.
Gallagher said she was concerned about concurrent learning which would come into play with a hybrid model. Concurrent learning is the idea that teachers would teach in-person and virtual students at the same time for portions of the day. FCPS staff said at the most recent board meeting that planning time for teachers would be increased by 30 percent in order to help with this new requirement.
"Particularly as we were looking a the K through two expansion of hybrid, we would have teachers focused on both students in class and on the computer at the same time. To me that is a huge task," Gallagher said.
Board member Lois Jarman said she was concerned about the safety protocols and equipment the school system has. A simple daily health questionnaire is not enough of a safety measure she said.
"I know when I was a teacher sometimes it's just easier to go in sick than it is to call a substitute and so what kind of screening do we have? I would ideally like to see the rapid testing but we don't even have the thermometers," Jarman said.
Jason Johnson said he would also like to see more developed plans and said families need to be given a choice on whether or not they want to send their students in. Additionally, he said families should be allowed to change their decision at different set points during the semester.
Dean Rose echoed some of the other candidate's thoughts and said he was concerned that teachers were not involved more in the development of the reopening plans.
Sue Johnson agreed with her opponents that the current plan doesn't have enough detail but said if there is good communication from FCPS and if a good plan for virtual learning is in place, she doesn't see any reason why kids can't start returning to school buildings.
This question of sending students back to school was also touched upon by Paulette Anders, an official write-in candidate for the board of education election. Anders said she officially filed as a candidate with the Frederick County Board of Elections Tuesday afternoon after being disappointed by the board and the lack of progress at their last meeting. She was allotted some time at the end of the forum to make a statement.
"I'm a firm believer that [reopening schools] can be done safely and we can take into account the teacher's needs, the parent's needs, and the student's needs. It needs to be done, it needs to be done soon," Anders said. "I have been hearing from so many parents that they don't feel like they're being heard by the Board of Education...so I felt compelled that I should just throw my hat in the ring so that I could be a parent advocate for a return of students to school."
Besides the reopening of schools, the six candidates who will appear on the ballot were asked a variety of questions that were either written by the LWV or were submitted by community members.
When asked about school resource officers (SROs), Jason Johnson said he thought the program should be reformed, but not removed.
"[SROs] are there for a reason. Unfortunately, I can tell you that I've had moments...at FCPS where there was gun-play involved and the SROs being on the scene saved lives," he said.
David Bass was asked a question about the implicit bias and cultural proficiency training that FCPS has been implementing for staff over the past few years to address racial equity. Bass said this type of training is important but questioned the effectiveness of what FCPS has been doing.
"I question how effective the current programs are...we need to ensure that any training and professional development on racial equity is being evaluated and meeting the goals that it's set out to meet," he said.
When asked a question about meeting the needs of English Language Learners, both Rose and Sue Johnson said more needs to be done.
Rose suggested partnering with community organizations to provide resources and extra services to these students.
"I think we need to provide them after-school programs through partnerships with organizations much like the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick County, I Believe in Me...and provide services to our English Language Learners," he said.
Sue Johnson said she would like to see more focus put on the youngest EL students.
"We should provide more intensive support for them particularly at the younger ages. If we're able to do that I think we can get their language skills improved earlier," she said.
On Nov. 3, voters will be asked to select or write-in three candidates. Those who receive a majority of the vote will take their seats on the board in December.