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Howard: Virtual learning is virtually no education at all | COMMENTARY

The Board of Education has decided that our schools will not reopen and education will be delivered virtually. It was a unanimously bad decision by a Board of Education that ignored its own survey results from parents and students, to bow to the bullying of the “employment groups” (unions). And, yet all funding continues to flow. As a parent, business owner and former elected official, I have always believed education to be one of the most important things we do for our children, our community and future generations.

Virtual learning is a disaster and it is jeopardizing students, their GPAs, college preparation, sports scholarships, early education, any form of socialization and memories that they should be carrying for a lifetime. Our youngest students will not have even met teachers in person. Students just starting school or transitioning from elementary to middle, or middle to high school will be confused. And learning will undoubtedly suffer. I would rather see the school year postponed until a better plan can be developed, than to pretend that education is happening.

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For years we were told children could only be educated in $40 to $100 million buildings, with millions of dollars for science labs, smart classrooms, and a wide array of technology. We were also told education required an extensive array of student support personnel to help students thrive. Now we are being told that instruction a few hours a day, over the internet, with no control of the students’ environment, limited technology, and no hands-on experiences is just fine. Well, it’s not.

I commend BOE member Kenny Kiler and County Commissioner Dennis Frazier for bringing various ideas to the table. Unfortunately, they were quickly dismissed once the union demands became the primary concern, not educating our kids.

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One idea was to at least open the school buildings and have the teachers teach from their classrooms. While some schools are working to make this an option, it should be required. There is certainly no risk to teaching in an empty room. Teachers would have access to all of the resources they need, access to each other and a structure for teaching full lessons in a full schedule. Technological challenges of virtual learning would be greatly reduced if every teacher was working from a school — each is connected to the high-speed fiber optic broadband network.

Sheriff’s deputies, volunteer firefighters, transit drivers, nurses, retail clerks and restaurant workers in our community have no choice but to do their work in the open, with the public. These heroes have managed to deliver vital services to our community without a large outbreak or community devastation. Teaching in an empty classroom would certainly not be as risky as those situations.

The BOE must be charged with implementing their plan to get education back in the classroom, even if it starts with only certain students, certain classes, certain days, or other strategies. Waiting for COVID-19 to be “over” is naïve and unrealistic. Even if there were a vaccine today, it might take several iterations to get it right, and months or even years to distribute. Choosing not to educate children properly is simply not an option. Cleaning protocols and safety practices need to be carefully developed and adhered to. But that is proving true in all aspects of life. The focus of CCPS needs to be about “how” and “when” to make these changes, not “if” we should educate our kids in school.

The unions, through their hand-chosen Board, have told the community to educate our children at home. Well, if that is the case, maybe it is time to simply “home school” our kids and take them off of the public school rolls. For every student who is taken off the rolls, state funding is reduced by more than $6,000 and the required funding from the county drops by more than $8,000.

If you are the parent of a student in Carroll County Public Schools and agree teachers should be working from the schools and that immediate steps should be taken start safely returning education to the classroom, please visit chng.it/PTWQzHKZJs and sign our petition.

The Board of Commissioners, in their role of managing the county budget and its limited resources, must take an active role, working with the Board of Education, to determine which expenses are not needed under the circumstances and how those resources can be better used for our students. For example, fuel costs for buses that are not running could be reduced from the education budget, and the county could extend the broadband network into more rural areas that need it.

Carroll County needs its leaders to make education a priority, properly allocate funding and create the right plan for safely getting education back into the classroom.

Doug Howard, a former two-term member of the Board of County Commissioners, writes from Eldersburg.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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