The Frederick County school system’s COVID-19 response has degenerated into a shouting match, with teachers pitted against the administration, board members sniping at each other and parents left hopeful, scared or angry.

Everyone is frustrated that the pandemic has gone on so long and been so devastating and disrupting. We all feel as though we have lost a year, living in suspended animation, desperate to get life back to normal.

The slow, bungled rollout of the virus vaccination program has exacerbated an already tense situation.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s pronouncement that schools should return to limited in-person instruction by March 1 was less than helpful without more information on how teachers and staff could be protected from the disease. Almost all teachers are still waiting to be vaccinated.

Hogan at first hinted that they could be fired for refusing to go back into the classrooms, but he said at a news conference Tuesday that no teacher would have to go back. The strain may be wearing on the governor as well.

Frederick Superintendent Terry Alban is taking the brunt of the blame from the local teachers’ union, which has voted no confidence in her. Alban earned their ire by deciding to go ahead with a hybrid learning model beginning on Feb. 16, with teachers returning to buildings today, Jan. 27. She had delayed the model for two weeks but decided now was the right time to go forward.

The union said the school system is requiring teachers to return before health and safety measures have been met and before vaccinations of educators have begun.

"This is putting educators and our students at much higher risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 than is necessary," the statement said.

Frederick County reported 67 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and the positivity rate was 7.6 percent. State guidance from last summer said the rate should be less than 5 percent and new cases fewer than 15 per 100,000 residents -- both marks we haven't hit.

More troubling, Alban decided to go ahead without reaching a new Memorandum of Understanding with the union on working conditions. Since the health crisis began in March, the administration and union have regularly come to such agreements on rules.

Alban should have talked to the union and agreed with a plan before announcing a start date for hybrid education.

Teachers have legitimate concerns about being exposed to the virus by returning to the classroom. Teachers range in age from their 20s to their 60s, and they have varying degrees of vulnerability to the virus.

Ordering older teachers to return to classroom without being vaccinated is thoughtless and possibly reckless. As the union said: "Working with [the union] to resolve all outstanding issues before educators are required to return to buildings is not a high burden to meet."

On the other side of the issue, we know that children need to get back to school as soon as possible. Virtual instruction is not ideal for a large portion of the children, and the isolation of being kept at home has been devastating on some.

The ideal situation, union members say, would be to delay the hybrid model until a majority of teachers are able to get vaccinated. Maryland has placed K-12 educators in vaccination group 1B, which was supposed to begin last week in Frederick County. However, due to limited supply of the vaccine, the county is currently only vaccinating individuals in group 1A and those over the age of 75.

On a side issue, the no-confidence vote revealed a fissure on the school board as well. The board issued a statement saying: "A majority of the board agrees with Dr. Alban’s plan,” but one member, Liz Barrett, said the statement issued was not circulated for review.

"I object to this continued lack of transparency that hurts public trust and ultimately our kids," Barrett wrote.

OK, everyone needs to calm down and take a step back from the battle lines.

We all want the schools to reopen as soon as is safely possible. This dispute is about what “safely possible” actually means. The board, the superintendent and the teachers all need to join together to get to a good solution, protecting educators while getting kids back to class.

(24) comments

threecents

Can we find a solution that works for all? Good question. The answer is "No."

bosco

In today's chronic complainer society, some people would complain if you hanged them with a brand new rope - as my grandmother used to say.

gary4books

I do understand that schools may be safer than the communities they serve. And there are good reasons to want all children to be back in a class room. But why rush now? Vaccines are on the way. Children may be safe, but what will they take home to more vulnerable people? Is it worth the risk?

I think not.

Not now.

FcpsAdmin2

Alban should resign. That'll be a good start toward bringing people together.

NewMarketParent

@FcpsAdmin2

Or.... The FCPSBOE could fire her. That is another option as well. That is, unless they absolutely agree with sending teachers and students back.

FcpsAdmin2

Totally correct. This board has shown that it's incapable of oversight or even of asking the right questions, with the exception of one or two members.

Greg F

The BOE is full of people who are all rushing to see sports and in class lessons, or we'd have seen more push-back. Said it before, we keep electing members of the BOE that lack science degrees and that perspective vs what we see now that are all about sports, internal spirit cheerleading exercises and a lifer mentality that shows group-think that fears any input from those that have a better idea.

Reader1954

I'm sure those same teachers have been going to the stores with masks on so why is it so hard to go back to school?

Awteam2021

Wouldn’t that make teachers more potential carriers of the virus, then would transport it to their students who would then pass the virus to their families? Not sure 🤔 if “going to stores with mask” is a good argument to safely reopening schools.

gary4books

There was a question they asked many Covid victims: "Where was the last place you went before you were sick?" For most it was: the grocery store." Even with a mask.

Dwasserba

I thought they said a restaurant? And how many lied?

NewMarketParent

@Reader1954

Because schools and stores are not the same thing. A tree is not a duck.

Dwasserba

I want that tattooed in Chinese characters inside my forearm. Guess what this says. Guess again.

Dwasserba

Zipping around inside a store is not the same as being immersed in children and questionable air quality for hours.

francesca_easa

Good editorial. It seems private schools in our area are having few problems with reopening. Perhaps the County should be talking to them.

Awteam2021

That might be with meeting with the proper safety protocols emplaced to reopen. There’s a lot more students enclosed in smaller spaces in public schools, making it a bigger challenge. Can the public system meet CDC regulations? Have the resources? If so, then do so, if not, don’t.

NewMarketParent

@francesca_easa

Private schools typically have more money and resources than our public schools. Additionally, parents who can afford to send their kids to private schools have more resources at home than the general public. It is pretty logical to see that that alone would lend to better protection in place. Additionally, there is zero visibility into private schools number of cases. The reason they may appear to be doing well is because they are suppressing information about their numbers, there is no reason to think otherwise.

gary4books

New Market: [thumbup][thumbup][beam]

francesca_easa

Not sure New Market how a private school could hide any incidents of Covid. As to the cost of private school, it is pretty much the same as what FCPS recently cited for the federal funding they receive per student per year. I can see where school vouchers would be handy right now.

NewMarketParent

@francesca_easa

Where are they required by law to detail their information? What are the penalties if they are caught under-reporting? What is the external mechanism to verify the accuracy of their data? If you don't have answers to all three of those questions, then it is easy as pie for them to under-report/under-count. Many people are pro-private institutions because they are a self-selecting population and there is zero visibility into how they operate. That means that they can lie to you with absolute impunity. Integrity is in short supply.

francesca_easa

New Market, I should add I took out a home equity loan to send my son to private school for a year to get him out of a miserable and combustible school environment. I am still repaying that loan. And no, I am not even upper middle class.

NewMarketParent

@francesca_easa

I applaud you for doing what you can to try to get your child(ren) the best education possible. I would like to leave you with one provable fact. Do you know what the greatest indicator is on how successful your kids will be in life? Unfortunately, it isn't education, but how much money you have. That is a really messed up, but fundamental truth.

bosco

Not to worry. Quid Pro Joe will be opening schools within 100 days of his inauguration. Or was it to open 100 schools in 100 days. Come on, man, give me a break.

louisianagirl71105

It is a false assertion that what works in a private school is in any way applicable to large public schools. Private school classes are small, and the students are kept together as a single group per class each day. The students remain in the same grade based classroom cohort, in the same desk all day. Teachers move from classroom to classroom for upper grades and teachers in the lower grades teach all but electives and remain in the same classroom, with the same students all day. This allows for quarantining of an entire class if necessary, should one member of the class group contract COVID. This simply is not possible in a public school where students change classrooms and mix into as many as seven different groups a day. Nice try, but try again.

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