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Teachers union calls on Anne Arundel Board of Education to discuss public safety and online learning

Russell Leone, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, held a press conference across the street from the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Parham Building, in Annapolis, to ask the board of education to work with teachers for a safe plan to get them back in the classroom with their students.
Russell Leone, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, held a press conference across the street from the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Parham Building, in Annapolis, to ask the board of education to work with teachers for a safe plan to get them back in the classroom with their students. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

The Anne Arundel County’s teachers union president called on the school board Thursday to sit down and discuss public safety issues and the new learning format, weeks into the first nontraditional school year that began with all classes online.

Russell Leone stood across the street from county school headquarters in Annapolis to make a public statement regarding concerns by educators when it comes to safety and the online learning format this semester.

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“We love our schools, and we want to get back to teaching in person as soon as possible, but we must do so safely,” said Leone, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. “The voices of educators must be at the table so that we can make sure that this is a safe and successful school year for all of our school communities.”

Leone said he held the conference on behalf of the 6,000 plus educators who couldn’t be there because they were with their students working to provide instruction.

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Superintendent George Arlotto said the union has had the opportunity to participate in conversations with the school system, citing examples of the reopening committees, town halls and meetings with school officials.

“It is unfortunate that the leadership of the teacher’s association believes that teachers have not had a seat at the table and have been unable to provide input into the reopening process. That is simply not true,” Arlotto said in a statement released by the school system.

The school system met with union leadership and the county health officer on Wednesday, stating that the meeting “addressed many issues voiced by TAAAC leadership," he said.

The school board released an official statement echoing Arlotto’s stance on the communication between school officials and the teachers' union and added that the board is focused on “reopening schools safely and delivering the quality education our students need.”

“The Board of Education respects our teachers and all they do for our students. The Board does not believe this an appropriate time for TAAAC to demand contract negotiations. This is especially so when the union and the Board are already in the middle of formal mediation of their current contract impasse,” the board stated.

“Maryland state law establishes a detailed process for resolving such disputes through the Public School Labor Relations Board, and the Board will respect that ongoing process by not discussing new contract requests in the media.”

Before the school year began, Leone said in June that educators reached out to the school system and Arlotto, requesting they work together to create a formal plan to address learning and teaching issues. Instead, problems are addressed as they come up with no comprehensive plan, he said.

Leone said the directives from the county, often changing daily and weekly, have created an environment of anxiety and “forces educators to operate in crisis mode even today.”

He called unexpected memos and information sometimes “quietly posted” to the school system website without alerting teachers an “unexpected trickle of information that has created mistrust and confusion.”

He said the changing direction causes educators to work countless hours to prepare for instruction.

The press conference was streamed live on the union’s Facebook page. It comes after special educators called to be more involved in reopening talks with the school system. Earlier this month, Arlotto announced during a school board workshop that no special educators agreed to come back to specialty centers.

“While they’ve been characterized as unwilling, these men and women are the heart of their students’ education,” Leone said.

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Teachers have pushed back, saying the workshop did not capture the long hours educators have been working to foster online learning environments for children.

The school system asked the question, “are you willing to return to in-person instruction,” while telling teachers it was voluntary, Leone said.

“Instead, AACPS should have been asking, ‘have we provided you with clear assurances that you and your students will be protected,’” he said.

Arlotto said the system will still work with the union and others involved in the reopening process.

“We strive to have collaborative relationships with all of our stakeholders, and in particular those who represent our amazing teachers and staff, as we plan for the reopening of our schools and the return of teachers and students to their classrooms. We can disagree on how to handle issues, but we should not stray from the facts.”

Brandi Bottalico contributed to this article.

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