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Teachers and parents are concerned about Harford County’s plans to reopen schools

Posted at 11:11 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-22 07:26:02-04

The Harford County School District is considering a plan to bring all teachers and students back to the classroom by mid-November.

The reopening plan was presented by the county schools' superintendent during Monday night's board of education meeting.

Under the plan, Harford County teachers would return on October 12. Students K-2 would return the following week on the 19th. Grades 3-5 as well as Pre-K would walk the halls once again on November 4. Meanwhile, middle and high school students would return to the classroom on the 16th.

The school's plan is a hybrid model with all of the students attending class one day a week, while the others continue to learn online.

A return to the classroom is contingent on how well the county controls the virus in the coming weeks and months.

If key COVID-19 metrics such as new case rate and positivity rate hold steady or decline, more students will return to the classroom. But, if the numbers trend in the wrong direction, the district could reduce the student population or shut down schools entirely.

At the board of education meeting, most of the speakers during the public comment period were teachers. Many of them expressed concerns about the plan, in regards to PPE, social distancing and an increased risk of contracting the virus.

Kelly Fodel, a parent of three Harford County public school students, said she agrees with the concerns of the teachers. She also fears with a flu season fast approaching, schools could be forced to shut down due to bringing students back into the classroom.

Fodel added the plan could be a logistical nightmare as well, where teachers are essentially going to work two jobs.

“They’ll have to stay tuned into the computer providing all of that virtual instruction. They can’t step away from the computer. How are they actually going to be providing any sort of in-person education for the 25 percent who are in the classroom," she said. "Right now, for everyone’s safety and for just logistics for the situation, it really doesn’t make sense for us to make yet another change. It’s unfair to parents, students and especially unfair for teachers."

According to the school's reopening plan, families will have the choice to opt out of the hybrid model.

Chrystie Crawford-Smick, the president of the Harford County Education Association, also expressed concern about the plan, saying, "without a fully developed plan, it is irresponsible to move forward.”

In a statement, she said, “There has been something missing from the planning process, the voice of educators—the people who are living this are pivotal stakeholders and need to be involved in the decision-making process. Simply asking for feedback after a plan is completed is not authentic collaboration.”

Similar to Fodel, she also is worried about teachers and "the workload created by the rushed return plan".

“Last week I wrote about the excessive teacher workload. I had hoped HCPS would attempt to lighten the impossible requirements that have been placed on educators during this phase of virtual learning," Crawford-Smick said. "Instead, HCPS is choosing to move towards in-person instruction and increase educators' demands even more. They will now be required to teach asynchronous students, synchronous students with a device at home, students with a packet, and students in-person who will not all have a device. How is that possible?."

Crawford-Smick is urging the county to slow down and put the plan on hold.

"Why are you rushing this? Being in school will essentially be the same as learning at home because teachers will be tethered to their desks. Webcams are still on backorder, and Chromebooks will likely not be in the hands of students. Those issues were beyond your control, but you can control how we move forward—slow down and develop a plan," she said.

She also said the decision to move forward on the plan will be left up to the superintendent. Right now, it's unclear what his decision will be and if any changes will be made.