A dozen cars were lined up outside of the Moose Lodge on Buena Vista Drive on Wednesday just after 3:30 p.m. They were driven by Carroll County Public Schools educators and revving up for a rally.
The Carroll County Education Association organized the car rally to coincide with the beginning of a school board meeting meant to discuss a return plan for students Wednesday evening. The Carroll County Board of Education had voted Feb. 10 to bring students back to school full-time by March 22. The plan was for teachers and educators to start at Buena Vista Drive and take a route that would lead them to the central office where the board members were to meet.
Some educators were using paint to decorate their cars with phrases like “safety first” and Teresa McCulloh, president of the CCEA, had “stay safe, stay 6″ and “stay on 6″ painted on her car which she said calls on the plan to enforce keeping everyone 6 feet apart. The draft of the return plan states students and staff should keep as socially distant as possible rather than keeping 6-feet apart specifically.
Perhaps 40 to 50 cars rallied Wednesday evening. McCulloh noted that the union they had a car rally in the summer before the board chose which mode of instruction to begin the school year. She said they had more than 120 cars. But Wednesday’s rally was about returning students and staff safely.
“We know we’re going back,” she said. “But we want to go back in a safer manner.”
She added that there should be sufficient personal protective equipment and safe social distancing. McCulloh said they have enough PPE for now but could run low with more students and staff in the building.
Students have been back in school in hybrid mode since Jan. 7, meaning they can attend school twice a week and learn virtually three days per week. The next phase of reopening is expected to give most students the option to attend in person four days per week and some to attend all five days.
Robert Herbstsomer, a teacher at East Middle School who was helping direct cars before the rally started, questioned how the schools will socially distance in classrooms and cafeterias if more kids show up.
Kierre Vinson, a reading specialist at North Carroll Middle School, said she was participating in the car rally for many reasons.
“My primary concern is how are people who are not health professionals making decisions that can impact the health and lives of everyone under the umbrella of education,” she said, adding it’s important to follow CDC guidance.
Vinson said she was upset when she read the draft of the return plan and questioned who would be the voice of reason during Wednesday’s meeting.
“People that are making decisions are not educators,” Amy Levine, a participant at the car rally, said, adding that the board manipulates CDC guidance to fit their own agenda.
“Whenever they want a decision to be made, they change their tactics,” she added.
Meanwhile, Kelly McIver, parent of a student at the Career and Technology Center was holding a sign that said “choose students over unions” on one side and “fully open CCCTC” on the other.
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”My son is in the engineering program at CCCTC and in order to get the full benefits of the program, they really should attend in-person learning,” she said.
She said she is not the only person who feels that way, and added teachers who are concerned about their safety should talk to their administrators and request working from home.
”But many people have been back to work in much more hazardous restrictions,” she added.
Marsha Doolan, a retired teacher who sits on the CCEA executive board and is a substitute teacher, had “where’s my shot” and “is it safe to return to school?” written in red on bright yellow paper stuck to her red car. She said teachers are being forced to return before getting fully vaccinated.
“I think the teachers have to be protected,” she said, adding that her daughter, who teaches, caught the virus and noted how scary it was. She also noted how North Carroll Middle School, where she substitutes, had a staff member die from COVID-19.
Doolan said they “have to try” to send a message to the board.
“They need to know how we feel,” she said. “And it is a no-win situation all around.”