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Baltimore County teachers union slams Hogan’s March deadline to reopen schools

The Baltimore County teachers union is pushing back on Gov. Larry Hogan’s call for schools to bring students back for in-person instruction by March, signaling a possible showdown between the county’s educators and elected leaders.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County, representing about 9,000 certificated public school employees, passed a resolution Thursday condemning the Maryland State Department of Education and Gov. Larry Hogan for putting pressure on schools to reopen and calling on teachers unions to drop their objections.

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The resolution argues thatteachers should have the opportunity to get fully vaccinated from COVID-19 before teaching in-person, and have the choice to return to worksites or to continue instruction virtually.

Baltimore County schools have remained closed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as neighboring jurisdictions have brought some students back to classrooms. The district is also recovering from a crippling ransomware attack in November.

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In the resolution, county educators argue that the governor’s March 1 date for reopening is “arbitrary” and emphasized the role of health departments and education boards in determining how to safely resume in-person instruction.

“The energy that went into this political statement could better be directed toward embracing the science and giving our students a chance to get safely back into the classrooms,” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor’s office said in an email Friday.

Hogan, a Republican, acknowledged last week that he cannot order the schools to reopen, but said the state “will explore every legal avenue at our disposal” if school systems do not immediately begin a good-faith effort to return to classrooms.

Baltimore County school administrators immediately reacted to the governor’s announcement by planning to reopen for at least some students by March. Administrators declined to comment Friday. Superintendent Darryl Williams is expected to present reopening dates to the school board next week.

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Educators were “distraught” by the governor’s announcement last week, said Cindy Sexton, president of TABCO.

The union’s resolution urged leaders to stick with the county school system’s “Safety is Our True North” plan, which relies on health metrics to dictate the timeline for reopening schools.

“The legitimate health and safety concerns which have led to students and families being provided a choice in returning must also be acknowledged as legitimate for educators,” the resolution states. “We are not separate from one another. Through the lens of equity, and in consideration of the physical and social-emotional health of our educators, the same range of options must be given to these vital members of the school community.”

Baltimore County’s school board debated on Tuesday whether to reopen schools in accordance with the governor’s instruction. Members took the rare step of voting during a work session whether to adopt specific reopening dates, but the motion failed. Messages requesting comment from the school board were not immediately returned Friday.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore County health department has begun distributing vaccine doses to school system employees. It’s unclear how long it will take to vaccinate all employees, given the limited supply of doses.

Maryland reported 1,880 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, as well as 39 fatalities, according to health department data.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood, Bryn Stole and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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