Teachers protest after Board votes to return to schools, call plan unsafe

A tweet from the teachers union (MCEA) in response to the Boards decision to return students to schools before teachers are vaccinated.

Tweet from MCEA

A tweet from the teacher’s union (MCEA) in response to the Board’s decision to return students to schools before teachers are vaccinated.

Around 1,500 teachers protested the Board of Education’s decision to return students to schools, backing up the roads around the MCPS headquarters. The Board voted unanimously to phase students back into schools beginning early March. The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) took a vote of no confidence in the plan on Feb. 15, indicating they do not consider the decision safe and demanding that all school staff be vaccinated before returning. 

The Board has released numerous press releases with information about returning. Schools will follow CDC guidelines, have increased ventilation and social distancing will be strictly enforced. The MCEA said the plan “cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students and diverts resources from Black and Brown children.” 

MCEA has demanded that the Board release more detailed information about safety precautions, as well as “implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.” 

Superintendent Jack Smith said he is disappointed with MCEA’s vote in a statement on Twitter. “Montgomery County Public Schools has developed a comprehensive plan that prioritizes and safety of students and staff and the continued academic growth of all students,” Smith said. 

The Board’s plan came after pressure from Governor Larry Hogan to return students to school by Mar. 1. “If school systems do not immediately begin a good-faith effort to return to the classrooms, we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal,” Hogan said. 

The first round of students has already returned to schools, with more students expected to go back in the coming weeks. The Board will vote on Mar. 23 whether to speed up the reopening, allowing all students to be in schools by Apr. 19. Students will still have a completely virtual option for the rest of the year, but teachers do not have the option to stay home. 

Teachers are disappointed by the apparent lack of communication between the Board and educators. “There has been some criticism by the union that [the Board] is not taking necessary safety measures, like making sure all teachers are vaccinated before they return,” English teacher Melissa Kaplan said. 

Teachers have been denied ADA accommodations that would have allowed them to stay at home, after being led to believe that more teachers would be accommodated.  “I’ve talked to a handful [of teachers] that are terrified to return and I’ve talked to some that… feel pretty safe,” Kaplan said, “I think there is a broad range [of opinions] at Wootton.” 

Certain teachers and administrators have already returned to schools and more will return to the building in the coming weeks. Instruction will remain primarily through Zoom to accommodate online students. 

You can read more about the Board’s return to school plan here.