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Letter: Harford legislators asking for in-person education haven’t done much to support schools in the past | READER COMMENTARY

In response to the letter sent to Dr. Bulson and the Board of Education by Senators Jennings, Cassily and Gallion and Delegates Arikan, Griffith, McComas, Reilly and Szeliga of the Harford County delegation to the General Assembly.

Senators and Delegates, I find your sudden concern with the functioning of Harford County Public Schools perplexing.

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I, and many others, would be considerably more willing to take your concerns and advice, regarding HCPS’s plan for the fall, more seriously, if any of you had proven to be champions for education during your tenure in the General Assembly. Only Sen. Jennings has demonstrated, by his vote in favor of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, that he recognizes the need for significant improvements in Maryland’s public schools.

Your letter has condemned virtual learning before it has even begun. Harford County is 24th out of 24 counties in per pupil spending, yet the educators in this county continue to do marvelous things with less and less. I would ask that you give them a chance to prove that again. All educators have spent time this summer learning to enhance their skills for virtual learning and for supporting the mental and emotional health of the children.

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Dr. Bulson and the Board of Education have acknowledged the need for “in-person” learning for some of our most at-risk students, and have, on multiple occasions, identified these groups for gradual entrance to school for specified reasons when it is safe and appropriate.

As far as the current infection rate, your statistics indicate a 1%, not a “0.01%” rate in the county. However, during the Governor’s press conference the positivity rate in Harford County was reported as 3.19%. Regardless of the percent, the protection of all students and staff is of utmost importance.

To that end, have any of you contributed, in any positive manner, to assist the district in procuring the needed PPE, disinfectants, or other supplies that are required by the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health? Have any of you, before your letter dated Aug. 27, 2020, assisted the superintendent or the Board of Education in procuring funding or additional guidance or direction from the state? Have any of you made any efforts to assist the district in procuring, even on a temporary basis, devices that would make up the shortfall? I do not recall any of you making a personal plea to the community or local businesses to donate unused devices that the district could use.

Unlike a restaurant, store or other business in the county, the public schools do not have the ability to limit the number of patrons in their establishments. Schools cannot mandate that you can only stay at a table for 50 minutes or accept only some reservations. Public schools must accept all children.

Your requests regarding parent choice are appropriate. All parents must have the ability to choose if they are ready for their children to attend school in person. However, your applying choice to educators is troubling. According to your plan there would be both virtual and in-person learning, how should the district apply choice equitably to teachers if there are not enough volunteers to staff the in-person portion? Force people to staff the in-person portion.

How do you mandate choice for parents and not school staff? The district has already “forced” many staff members back into buildings to staff the Learning Support Centers, (which by the way are supporting the needs of the community) and they are not being paid any type of “bonus pay.” How would you propose that the district cover this expense? Are any of you planning on submitting legislation to enhance school funding to support expenses incurred due to the pandemic? Would any of you support this type of legislation? Given your voting records on education and education funding, I would expect not. Instead I am sure that you will continue to pretend that the funding that districts have received from the Federal CARES Act, to support things like technology purchases, are the generous acts of the Governor.

Everyone, the Superintendent, the Board of Education, the teachers, the Education Support Professionals, the custodians, cafeteria workers, as well as everyone else, employed by Harford County Public Schools wants the best for every child in the county. None of us like the situation we are in, but the staff of HCPS are all committed to providing the best education possible while keeping the safety of the children and the staff as a paramount concern.

CYNTHIA F. “CINDY” POPER

Edgewood

The author is an Education Support Professional employed by HCPS and is a member of the HCEA Government Relations Committee.

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