United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently visited schools in Prince George’s County as part of his many visits to schools where he has given promises of help. Unfortunately, he didn’t travel just a few miles further to Montgomery County. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) need his help. MCPS is nowhere near meeting President Biden’s goal of schools being open 5 days a week for grades K-8 during his first 100 days of office.
Furthermore, over 60 percent of MCPS schools have wait lists for students for in-person learning, and students in special education programs are being denied in-person services like physical, occupational, and speech therapy. This is unconscionable in a public school system in the United States of America and needs to be addressed immediately, meaning today, not in a week or two. And it certainly needs to be a top priority addressed at the April 20 Board of Education meeting.
Local leadership needs help with prioritizing. The Board of Education focuses their attention on attending board of education conferences and dozens of lower priority items. These topics should be addressed in addition to, not instead of, the immediate, urgent priority of returning students to schools. Our state representatives are focused on legislation for teachers to continue virtual teaching from home if they choose instead of focusing on solutions for optimal return of students and teachers to schools.
Additionally, state leadership has not intervened. The Governor, state superintendent, and state acting deputy secretary for public health have given MCPS and Montgomery County leaders clear guidance, but they allow them to ignore it and do not push further.
Yes, education is largely local, and there is an election next year. And yes, there are many lifelong Democrats and champions of public education who are angry and feel the Democratic party and public school system have left them. But the election is more than 18 months away. We urgently need intervention now. Even one day more of damage to a child or one child left behind on a wait list or one child being denied their entitled services is one day too many.
The Board of Education should comprehensively review each school to identify wait lists, classrooms with fewer than 5 students per week, and assignments for special education service providers. They should follow the current CDC and state guidance for distancing, cohorting, and cleaning, and eliminate a strict requirement for A/B weeks, a strict cap of 12 to 15 students per room, a Wednesday deep cleaning day, and outdated cohorting rules related to special education.
Montgomery County is the home of NIH and thousands of biomedical sciences professionals. They know that the policies creating wait lists and denial of services are absolutely not based on science or safety. It appears that false statements about science and safety concerns are being used to cover for the real underlying issues. MCPS should be honest if there are reasons such as staffing concerns because of deals with the teacher union about planning days or teleworking so that solutions for these issues can be implemented. Surely, there is no reason that justifies denying children their right to a free and appropriate public education in the United States.
Traicoff is the parent of 2 MCPS students and a member of the Together Again MCPS group.