Well, school board member Liz Barrett really kicked over a hornet’s nest at the Frederick County Public Schools system.
With remote instruction set to begin Monday, Barrett declared on Wednesday that the school system was not prepared to begin work and suggested delaying the start date by a week.
The board quickly rejected her proposal and declared the system would begin instruction as planned. But the damage was done.
Our first question is why? Why go public with such a drastic proposal with less than five days to go before the opening? Barrett must have realized the board would not and could not do what she wanted. The board could not schedule, publicize and hold a meeting, much less gather all the information needed to make such a decision in so short a time.
Those difficulties don’t begin to deal with the vast uncertainty a delay would have created for parents and students not to mention principals and teachers.
Our second question is: What did Barrett think was going to happen as schools open? Did she seriously believe that everything was going to run smoothly from day one? And how would waiting a week make it any better?
The school system is trying to reinvent itself on the fly here. It is going to do some things right and some things wrong, and administrators, principals and teachers are going to have to change and modify for weeks and even months. This is a new system, not even the same as it was while struggling to finish the spring semester.
Barrett tweeted her concerns, and again we have to ask why. “This Board member does not believe FCPS teachers and staff and students and families have the tools, support, access, and consistent direction to open...I have asked fellow Board members to delay school start a week to allow time for many systemic improvements,” the tweet said.
In an email to The News-Post, Barrett said: “We need to step up leadership. Hope and positivity are not strategies here.” Well, slapdash, unrealistic ideas do not qualify as leadership either. If she had concerns about the system’s readiness, she has had other opportunities to speak out since the board decided in late July to open with remote learning.
No other board member joined Barrett’s call to delay the opening.
“School should begin as soon as possible. Course corrections may be necessary. No one is served by postponing the start of this experiment in education,” Board member Michael Bunitsky said in an email to The News-Post.
School Superintendent Terry Alban said in an email that she understands people are anxious but she is confident FCPS will do all it can to make the start of the year as successful as possible.
“Our teachers are professional educators who will make the necessary adjustments to improve the virtual environment for students as they go forward. This is the same as adjusting lessons in a classroom once you get to know your students better,” Alban said.
The Board of Education, with Barrett’s name included, issued a statement late Wednesday asking the community to be patient with the virtual instruction model. Modifications are bound to be necessary, the statement said.
“This is, and will continue to be, a learning process for all stakeholders,” the board’s statement read.
Thursday's last-minute announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan to allow all state schools to reopen for in-person classes was just as ill-timed. These kinds of seismic changes days before schools are set to reopen virtually just muddle the issue.
For now, we need to trust this "learning process." It's about the best that we can expect, when a school system is implementing an entirely new method of instruction in the midst of a pandemic. Let’s all take a deep breath, give our teachers a chance and see how this will work.