More than 50 parents, teachers and union leaders gathered outside Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on East North Avenue early Wednesday night to urge the district to not reopen schools for in-person learning.
Speakers voiced concerns about the safety of both teachers and students if the district decides to move to in-person learning and said repeatedly that employees and children are “under attack." They also touted an online petition that has received more than 2,200 signatures that outlines what needs to be done for a safe return to school. The demonstration was organized by the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Parent and Community Advisory Board.
“The district is still considering pushing thousands of teachers and kids back to school,” high school chemistry and physics teacher Joel Pally said. “We are here to remind them they have no choice but to take our lives seriously.”
As coronavirus continues to ravage the country, including Maryland, most schools in the Baltimore region opted to begin the school year virtually. But as Gov. Larry Hogan continued to relax state restrictions, Maryland schools superintendent Karen Salmon said it is safe for all schools to reopen, causing many districts to reevaluate how quickly to bring students back.
Baltimore City schools opened virtually Sept. 8 and opened 15 elementary schools for students to learn online in small groups. The district said it is “reevaluating the possibility” of adding a hybrid learning option by Oct. 16 but has not yet announced a decision.
Patrice Pilgrim, Baltimore Teachers Union Community COVID-19 Taskforce chair, said all teachers wish they could be in the classroom but that she is “not willing to sacrifice a single one” of the district’s students or teachers.
The mother of two expressed frustration that the district and state leaders haven’t been listening to concerns being voiced by educators, and described it as a “political game.”
“No one takes our input seriously,” Pilgrim said. “I’m not saying our word is the beginning or ending but we are teaching these kids every day and know them second-best to their parents.”
PCAB board member Angie Winder said until a vaccine or rapid coronavirus testing is available, she doesn’t think it’s safe to resume in-person learning. She also pointed to the city’s recent announcement that it’s laying off 450 employees and implementing a hiring freeze.
Winder said on a regular day, many city schools lack basic necessities for students and with a $21 million budget gap, she doesn’t see how the proper PPE could be purchased to keep everyone safe.
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Franca Muller Paz, a Green party candidate who’s running against Robert Stokes in the City Council District 12 race, echoed Winder’s sentiment.
“We love our kids and we love our educators and we will not put them on the line,” said Muller Paz, who is also a public schoolteacher. “We will not fire away into safe schools.”
Even with proper PPE, pre-K teacher Meg Gibson said she doesn’t see how early childhood learning can be safe. She also doesn’t know how helpful it would be because early learning is “tactile” and “hands on,” she said, but no toys or learning areas, like an art center, would be allowed in classrooms.
The Belmont Elementary School teacher said she also doesn’t know how social distancing or mask-wearing would be implemented with children in pre-K, which concerns Gibson for her health.
“The district’s plan is detailed and well-conceived, but there are things I need to know to keep myself and my family healthy,” she said. “And I don’t know how we can do that right now.”
The demonstration ended with Pally shouting out conditions that increase the threat or transmission of COVID-19 — such as having asthma, using public transportation, being an obese child, or being over 65 years old and caring for someone — then asking people to sit if they know an individual with that situation.
Nearly every single person sat.