In March 2020, school districts were caught completely unprepared for a launch into the new frontier of virtual education. Educators in Frederick County, resilient as always, rose to the challenge to meet their students’ needs amidst continuous uncertainty.
Now, nearly 18 months into this pandemic, educators, parents, and students deserve better than the opaque approach that Frederick County Public Schools is taking as we embark on another year of uncertainty. There remains a lack of clear, transparent, and consistent communication from FCPS leadership resulting in information trickling down in a confusing, disjointed fashion regarding contact tracing, quarantining, and equitable access to education for students who are already affected by the spread of the virus in schools and communities. Where is the Plan B for the “full speed ahead” approach that FCPS is taking?
For exposed students, there is no opportunity for live instruction during quarantine. Parents, students, and educators continue to get inconsistent (and sometimes nonexistent) messages about exposures and quarantine. Our dedicated and hard-working teachers face these obstacles without a contract in place — leaving them vulnerable and without clear expectations for how FCPS plans to keep them and their families safe. The community lacks visibility into outbreaks, policies, and plans for schools in their neighborhoods — and no one centralized location exists to provide people with basic information on quarantining and contact tracing on fcps.org until after the school year already started.
Have we learned nothing from the last 18 months? First and foremost, FCPS should be focused on the health and safety of our students and our educational community at large. Pushing ahead with full in-person education with no contingency plan is foolish, dangerous, and will lead to continued inequity for our students.
How can we be certain that there will be sufficient substitute teacher coverage when educators must quarantine due to exposures? Will there be enough leave time to cover their absences? How will students access schoolwork and continue to grow and learn without any level of live instruction — especially at the elementary school level? Is there sufficient technology available for all students in the case of quarantine that can be re-distributed quickly and safely? What if students face multiple, separate quarantines due to exposures? How can we NOT expect them to fall behind? What is the level of community spread that will make a shift to some level of virtual instruction necessary? How are teachers being asked to prepare for this?
If these were not the questions being discussed and planned for during the summer months, FCPS missed a huge opportunity to take lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure that there were more answers and less questions this school year.
Rae Gallagher is a former member of the Frederick County Board of Education.