BALTIMORE — A Baltimore household is divided on how schools should be reopening in the state ahead of the fall semester, an example of the difficult decision state and school leaders face.
Tyejae and Anijae Barnwell, who go to Greenstreet Academy, miss school, their friends and their teachers but disagree on where and how they should learn this upcoming school year.
Tyejae is worried about contracting COVID-19 as well as concerned about exposing her family members. She said she is “scared” to get it and wants Baltimore city schools to go 100 percent distance-learning this fall.
“It will be difficult to distance yourself when you are in one classroom when there are a bunch of students. Children aren’t the cleanest,” she said. “Teachers could have coronavirus, the kids could have it because there are still kids going out and being around other children.”
Her sister, Anijae, isn’t as concerned as her sister when it comes to getting the virus. She believes there’s a risk wherever you go and supports a hybrid approach to reopening schools where there would be a mix of in-person learning and online.
“I have a hard time paying attention already in school without my teacher having to look over my shoulder making sure I do what I do, so doing it virtually is going to be even harder,” she said.
However, their dad, Tyrone Barnwell agrees with Tyejae. Barnwell who is also a member of a workgroup on this very issue, does not want his kids to return to the district until he believes it safe.
He doesn’t trust Baltimore city to provide that environment to kids because of the problems that plagued the district before the pandemic began.
“Schools haven’t kept toilet tissue in the bathrooms. They haven’t kept sanitizer or soap before COVID-19 ,and we always heard we don’t have the resources,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Baltimore Teachers Union, Maryland PTA and the Maryland State Education Association called on the state to allow distance-learning for at least the first semester.
The groups believe there’s not nearly enough protections in place to protect students and teachers in the event they returned to the classroom.
“For too long, education and our children have been too easily sacrificed when there is a crisis. In recent times, we’ve seen it with the Great Recession and now we’re seeing it again with the coronavirus pandemic,” said Tanya Sweat with Maryland PTA. “ Enough is enough. In ordinary times, parents would have no qualms with sending their babies off to school to learn. These are not ordinary times.”
The three groups sent a letter urging Governor Larry Hogan and State School Superintendent Karen Salmon to support the idea, citing the health and safety of Maryland students, educators, and families. It comes on a day where the state reported more than 700 new COVID-19 cases, which is the most since early June.
“We know we have kids that depend on school for eating [and] lunch. We have kids who have IEPs, physical therapy…but again, I think the school system and are leadership need to go beyond that to make these things available right in communities for these parents and meet the needs of our kids,” said Barnwell.
He added, “We cannot play Russian roulette with our kids lives.”