Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is the 14th largest school district in the country and incredibly diverse; this diversity is clearly visible when looking at the administrators and members of PAGES Coalition (Parents/Ally/Guardian/Educator/Student). The TogetherAgain group, less than half the size of PAGES, is decidedly lacking in diversity amongst its members and administration. Despite proclaiming that they are speaking for the MCPS community the TogetherAgain group’s petition still currently only has 806 signatures despite being open for almost a full week. The petition created by the P.A.G.E.S. Coalition that has been live for only 63 hours already has over 3,300 signatures (as of 3:37pm 2/7/21). Even though the P.A.G.E.S. petition launched at almost 10pm at night its signature count blew past the reopen groups efforts of two days in less than two hours.
The brilliant Nigerian writer and speaker Chimamanda Adichie shares that, “[t]he single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” The singular story of privilege that is being shared by the TogetherAgain group is sadly also the one that is being shared in MCPS Board of Education (BOE) meeting testimonies. Those presenters selected to be shared at the last meeting were painfully lacking in diversity; one presenter has even had an opportunity to share her opinion at three BOE meetings since December 2020. This is not from a shortfall of contributions from other members from the community. Many teachers, parents and community members signed up to give testimony. MCPS has recognized that there was inequity with Lana Haddad, (Administrative Services Manager, MCBOE), responding via email that, “The board has recognized that this process should be revisited to ensure a diversity of perspectives."
One of the largest arguments given for immediate reopening of school buildings is the ever-growing learning gap between our privileged and at risk students. The TogetherAgain group says that our BIPOC (almost 60% of total enrollment) and FARMS students (33.3% of total enrollment) need to be back in the buildings now. These “advocates” say that the Covid pandemic is causing learning loss for these students and creating equity gaps. Any educator and many community members will tell you that those gaps existed long before our current global pandemic with major inequities existing between the haves and have nots in Montgomery County. Perhaps TogetherAgain members would be better served by listening to the communities they are attempting to speak for who are under no misconceptions about the dangers and hardship their families are experiencing. Covid-19 case numbers are four times higher in areas like Silver Spring and Gaithersburg than Bethesda and Chevy Chase; nationwide BIPOC are dying at 2.8 times the rate of nonHispanic whites. These truths are not lost on our students and families in these communities as they have overwhelmingly chosen to remain virtual.
MCPS places great emphasis on equity and students’ social and emotional well being. However, despite this county focus no thought seems to have been given to asking students to make such a massive transition so late in the year. Many students will no longer be with their teacher and classmates that they have formed relationships with all year due to the proposed divide between virtual and hybrid instruction. The TogetherAgain petition cites social media posts in its claim that the virtual support model “...is being chosen because it is what teachers prefer”. The reality is that these potential instructional models are being driven by a global pandemic and necessary health and safety guidelines. There aren’t enough staff members in the county to be with the minority of students whose families have opted for the hybrid model. They go further to claim that teachers continuing to provide the same support and rigorous education that they have been to their students who remain virtual is “absolutely unacceptable” and bordering on a “dereliction of duty”.
As one parent stated in her email to the BOE, “those who chose to return proactively chose change”. Asking the three fifths of our students who made their choice for safety, continuity, and continued robust virtual learning to take a back seat to the wants of the vocal minority isn’t a look we should be striving for here in MCPS.
Jessica Urbantke is a parent of several MCPS students, one of whom receives services and therapies through the county. She holds her bachelor degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Maryland, and her Masters of Special Education from Towson University.