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Baltimore County educator unions call on superintendent to rescind reopening plan for schools

Unions representing Baltimore County teachers and support personnel say the school district broke a labor agreement when it unexpectedly announced Thursday a plan to return staff to schools by mid October.

In a letter delivered Friday to Superintendent Darryl L. Williams, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Education Support Professionals of Baltimore County demanded that he rescind his timeline to gradually switch the school system to in-person instruction. The plan would bring select groups of students back to classrooms by Nov. 13.

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School officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Williams released the timeline Thursday to the surprise of some teachers, families, board of education members and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. Later in the day, the superintendent clarified the plan was not a done deal.

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"I would never want to put people in harms way,” Williams said Thursday. “This was not the top-down message that folks are interpreting.”

The unions said in the letter that Williams’ announcement “took everyone by surprise.” They also pointed out that the school system recently agreed to a memorandum of understanding, which defined the current working conditions for staff. The agreement took effect Sept. 8 and was to remain in effect until Jan. 29, 2021, or until the suspension of the state of emergency concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would appear that your decision was not only spontaneous but also an apparent submission to political pressure,” the letter states. “You should have, instead, been focused on the health and safety of the students and employees in your charge as well as adhering to your agreements with TABCO and ESPBC.”

Representatives of the unions say their members have delivered more than 3,000 emails sharing concerns to Board of Education members.

While Williams has since emphasized that the timeline will be carried out only if there are enough students and faculty willing to return, TABCO president Cindy Sexton said the unions must approach the plan as if it will be carried out.

“Our concern was and continues to be the health and safety of students and educators," Sexton said. “The way this information was shared, where the board didn’t know, the unions didn’t know, was our main concern."

The announcement comes three weeks after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state school superintendent Karen Salmon encouraged local school systems to develop plans to reopen schools this fall, saying all 24 school districts meet new state benchmarks indicating it is safe to reopen for some in-person instruction.

All Baltimore-area districts started the school year entirely online. Baltimore County is one of the first districts in the region to announce it’s planning to offer at least some students an opportunity to come back to school buildings. Harford County school leaders said earlier this week, they are considering a similar strategy to bring young children and special needs students back soon.

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