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President of national teachers union supports in-person return this fall during visit to community-centered Baltimore County school

The leader of the nation’s largest teachers union, during a tour of a Baltimore County school this week, said they support returning to classrooms full-time this fall.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association which represents teachers in most of Maryland’s school school systems, is joining President Joe Biden and the American Federation of Teachers in supporting a return to in-person learning.

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“We’re ready” to greet children in classrooms, Pringle said at an event at Baltimore Highlands Elementary School in Halethorpe, adding that teachers want nothing more than to be back in schools.

Maryland school systems, which have reopened slower than other states, are pivoting toward recovery this fall as students return to buildings full time. Baltimore County school system will continue to offer both in person and online learning options for students through the next school year.

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But federal, state and local leaders think most students do best in-person and Baltimore-area school systems are working to convince parents to send their kids back.

COVID cases in Maryland have fallen as more of the state has been vaccinated, prompting Gov. Larry Hogan to announce he’s lifting most pandemic restrictions on July 1. Public health experts say current and new variants remain a concern, but that evidence shows vaccines are effective at preventing illness and death.

After unions pushed to keep schools remote last year, the NEA says teachers now feel safe working in classrooms.

According to a union poll released Thursday, 86% of NEA members have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s higher than than the 73% of Maryland residents over the age of 18 to have received at least one dose.

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Baltimore County school system does not track the number of employees who have been vaccinated.

During the visit, Pringle also met with county leaders including Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and superintendent of schools Darryl Williams to discuss the benefits of the community school model. County officials are planning to adopt the community model in several more schools this fall.

Pringle developed a theory at the beginning of the pandemic: schools that were using the union-backed “community school model” would adapt faster at a time when districts were scrambling to deliver meals, learning materials and technology to student homes.

A community school, such as Baltimore Highlands Elementary, operates as a hub where students and their families can find supports in academics, health and social services. The schools are designed to meet students’ physical, social and emotional needs so that they can succeed academically.

The union says anecdotally that community schools were better prepared to adjust to their students’ needs during the pandemic.

“What I saw were happy faces,” Pringle said after touring several Baltimore County classrooms. “I could see them smiling through their eyes.”

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