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Baltimore County teacher says students are being used as 'guinea pigs' in district's reopening plan

Posted at 11:31 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 07:24:17-04

TOWSON, Md. — Some Baltimore County teachers are concerned about the district’s reopening plan, which wants to bring back students and teachers at separate day schools in November, making them the first group to return to the classroom.

Kelly Yalfani is a music teacher at Ridge Ruxton School. It’s one of the four schools scheduled to reopen. She said the students who attend these schools have disabilities and underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Yalfani calls the plan a terrible idea and will put staff and students at a higher risk of getting the virus.

“This isn’t safe for our kids,” she said. “And we’re talking about some students that our so medically fragile that even the regular flu can put them in the hospital.”

She’s also concerned her school and the others won’t be able to follow CDC guidelines such as mask wearing and social distancing.

“Some students IEP says an adult has to be an arm's reach at all times,” she said. “We don’t social distance from our students because some don’t physically have the ability to pick things up.”

Last week, the superintendent of Baltimore County Schools sent a letter to staff, informing them that the original plan to bring teachers back in mid-October had changed.

In the letter, the superintendent said the current plan to open separate day schools will be closely monitored, adding safety is top priority and adjustments could be made to the plan if necessary.

Cindy Sexton, who is the president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County said she’s received many emails from teachers on both sides of the issue.

But, in a statement, Sexton said teachers should have “the option of either going into schools to teach or remain teaching virtually. But it must be an option.”

She also said the union supports opening schools if it can be done safely.

“This is a very risky when there is a global worldwide pandemic,” Yalfani said. “I feel like we’re making a no-win situation even worse.”

While Yalfani understands parents' concerns about their children falling behind due to virtual learning,

She also said the district should rather be safe than sorry.

“We don’t want them to be the guinea pigs,” she said. “We don’t want to be watching them going in and out of the hospital.”

A spokesperson for the Baltimore County School District sent us a statement. It reads in part, ”we are going to continue having dialogue with staff, families and our union representatives as we carefully plan for a safe return of small groups.”

The district also reiterated the plan can change depending on “health metrics” in the county.

Under the district’s current plan, teachers at separate day schools would return on November 2nd followed by students on November 16th.