In Baltimore, where school officials have begun moving back to in-person learning faster than their suburban counterparts, some teachers and parents say they do not feel confident of the district’s ability to keep everyone safe should school openings continue this semester.
Today, they plan a rally – with cars “surrounding” the school system’s headquarters on North Avenue – to protest further moves to open classrooms.
The 6 p.m. event will allow the community to “let the district know where we stand and how we feel,” said Parent and Community Advisory Board member Angie Winder.
“I just want to make sure that my child, along with every child, is going to be safe when they do go back to school,” Winder told The Brew. “And that when they do go back, they will remain in school” rather than bounce back to remote learning.
No formal announcement on school reopenings has been made by Baltimore City Public Schools. But as new coronavirus cases in Maryland topped 3,000 for the fourth day in a row Monday, these community members remain wary.
Since November, approximately 2,000 students have gone back to in-person learning in 27 schools. The district gave families the option to attend classes with a small group or to continue learning virtually.
BTU Seeks Precautions
Union organizers said their concerns about reopening schools safely have been “brushed aside” by school officials.
“Pretty much anything that we propose for the safety of Baltimoreans and Marylanders was denied by the school system,” said Chris Bilal, a Baltimore Teachers Union organizer.
According to Bilal, the district has rejected union requests for basic safety precautions, such as a comprehensive Covid-19 testing plan for students and staff, ample PPE, and frequent ventilation system assessments to ensure adequate air circulation.
As of last Thursday, 36 Covid cases have been reported among students and staff working at in-person learning sites.
BTU also wants the school district to publicly disclose the health data upon which it is making reopening decisions.
“We’re essentially trying to prevent a public health crisis,” said Bilal, who organizes school support staff for the union.
In a statement to The Brew, the school system did not respond specifically to Bilal’s allegations.
“We have made several efforts to support our staff members, particularly our teachers, during this difficult time,” spokesman Andre Riley wrote.
Riley said school officials are hopeful they can work with BTU, adding “protecting our students’ education, while keeping both students and staff safe during the pandemic, is challenging, but worthwhile.”
Investments in PPE
Schools are outfitted with ventilation systems that are inspected and maintained, according to the BCPS website. Air purifiers, in some cases, have also been provided.
The district says it has invested $2.4 million in PPE. All students, staff and visitors must submit upon building entry to a temperature check and answer two health questions.
The school system also publishes its own Covid-19 statistics. As of last Thursday, 36 cases have been reported among students and staff working at in-person learning sites.
Covid-related illness has closed small learning groups, meal sites or an entire school a total of 45 times.
Surge in Community
The group of school staff, parents and community members organizing today’s rally has a number of demands, including that no staff be required to work in school buildings for the remainder of the school year.
Instead, they should be given options and the equipment and connectivity to work remotely.
The group also says that no jobs or budgets should be cut during or after the pandemic.
“Baltimore City Public Schools staff and parents are tired of being ignored,” @BTUBaltimore tweeted yesterday. “They are ready to do what is necessary to protect their health and their families.”
Meanwhile, data indicate the pandemic continues to surge in the city.
As of Monday, the seven-day average for new cases in Baltimore is 257, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The seven-day average positivity rate for Baltimore is 7% as of Friday, according to the city health department.
According to Winder, rally organizers planned today’s event without knowing they chose the same day that teachers unions and parent groups across the country are holding a “national day of action” for the safe reopening of schools.
The local protest will begin one hour after the start of today’s virtual school board meeting.
BTU President Diamonté Brown and other organizers are scheduled to speak at the board meeting, which will be streamed on the City Schools TV YouTube channel at 5 p.m.
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