As educators, the staff of Wicomico County Public Schools is deeply committed to our profession. When the safety and health of our students, staff and school buildings is guaranteed, we would rather be in schools with our students. It is this deep commitment and concern for the well-being of our students, their families, our staff, and our community that the Wicomico County Education Association takes the position that school buildings must not re-open in the fall. There is no way for students and staff to return safely or fairly to school buildings.
Entering buildings under the proposed hybrid models, is not safe. Coming together in large numbers constitutes a dangerous level of exposure where one infection rapidly becomes a schoolwide catastrophe, that ripples into our community.
Dr. Hanlin has stated that the decision-making process for how schools will reopen in the fall is complicated. It is. There are many issues that the committees of stakeholders are discussing – virtually, because it is unsafe to meet in person.
There are 14,889 students enrolled in Wicomico County Public Schools with 2,326 teachers and other staff providing education and other services in our 24 public school buildings and other locations. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 25% of teachers are especially highly susceptible to the virus. Reentering school buildings, with the rising numbers of infection and the rate of COVID-19 spread, the outcome is predictable. People will become ill. People will die.
We cannot ignore the other not-fully-understood chronic outcomes from this disease: from blood clot-related strokes, to embolisms, to the terrifying Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. The long-lasting, mental health impact is yet another concern.
Let’s talk mental health, and the reality of what sending students and staff back into buildings will look like. Consider the impact of returning to a building where new ideas flourished freely through conversation, materials sharing, and collaboration. But wait! You are stopped at the door and interrogated – the safety of students and staff dependent upon the correctness of your answers. But what if you don’t know – you or someone in your family is asymptomatic. So, you don’t know that you are a carrier who will infect everything you touch, everyone with whom you may come into contact.
Now you’re walking through the halls, dutifully sanitized by hard-working, dedicated staff. But the building is old. The requirements of HVAC systems have changed since the building was in its prime. Now, in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic, CDC guidelines and HVAC experts state that a MERV 13 rated air or furnace filter better captures airborne viruses and bacteria. During the July 15 meeting, senior leadership stated that “MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) is a rating for air filters. The ratings range from 1-16. Filters that have higher numbers trap smaller particles. Filter ratings in Wicomico County School buildings range from MERV 8-11.”
As you continue down the hallways you notice the classrooms – desks distanced, students wearing masks, squirming in chairs but respecting the confine of the taped-off area where they have been sanctioned. Where is the reality in that scene? Students walking – 6 feet apart – through halls with little sound, to keep down the numbers of particulates and droplets of sputum that will leak from even the finest mask.
The opportunities of face-to-face instruction as we knew it before the COVID-19 pandemic like hands-on group work is gone – for how long we don’t know. Any in-person educational benefits are diminished because of safety protocols and anxiety levels. Engaging in face-to-face learning as we knew it is gone for now if we believe that the priority is to keep students and staff safe and healthy.
Wicomico County Public School educators are talented, dedicated inpiduals who love what they do in providing rich and rigorous academic experiences for students. Academic experiences for our students must not be outsourced to people we do not know and who do not know our students. Wicomico County educators are capable of providing these experiences online, and in person when the time is right.
The Wicomico County Education Association’s recent survey that mirrored the survey put out by Wicomico County Public Schools, revealed that almost 90% of our educators are concerned about returning to school buildings. More than half of our respondents cite health issues for themselves and/or immediate family members that health officers say should prevent them from entering our buildings. More than a quarter of our staff reside in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks have been more intense than in Wicomico County. Further, WCEA has been made aware that many educators are considering retirement or resignation if told to return to buildings. A staffing crisis is imminent if we open our buildings in the fall.
Our concern is for the health of our entire community, which includes educators and their families, as well as students and their families, with special consideration for those who are medically vulnerable or are otherwise at increased risk. There is no way to return to school buildings safely or fairly in the fall of 2020. Any unavoidable academic setbacks are a casualty of the pandemic. Learning will inevitably be lost—but learning can be made up. Lives lost cannot be reclaimed.
Respectfully Submitted by,
Joan Smith, President
Wicomico County Education Association
How Does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Impact Educators?
Education Support Professionals and Coronavirus
Employee Rights: Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
Every Student Succeeds Act (2015): COVID-19 Implications & EPP Recommendations
U.S. Department of Education Information On Impact of COVID-19 on IDEA & Testing/Accountability
Digital Learning & COVID-19