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Howard County teachers union files class action grievance about ‘staffing crisis’

The Howard County Education Association alerted its members Thursday that the union had filed a class action grievance “to sound the alarm about the staffing crisis” within the school system.

“The Grievants, who are mostly special educators, have missed their contractually required planning and lunch due to the extreme and emergent daily demands at their schools,” the grievance states.

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“Educators across our school system do not receive their required planning and lunch time several days per week, the impact of which is consequently felt by the most vulnerable children in our school system.”

The grievance, signed by more than 70 educators, is the “largest class grievance we have ever filed,” Joshua Guy Lenes, a union representative, said in an interview Thursday.

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“It impacts not only the 70 people who signed, but likely hundreds more who are missing their lunch and planning time every day,” said Lenes, who filed the grievance on behalf of the union.

During any given school day, special educators respond to student crises, attend and lead Individualized Education Program meetings, and manage other responsibilities, according to the grievance. General educators also serve special education students and are “experiencing the downstream impacts of the school system’s crisis in special education.”

Filed Dec. 20 to Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, the grievants, both general education and special education educators, represent 33 of the district’s 77 schools.

“It’s significant because it’s affecting all of our educators and students,” said Colleen Morris, union president.

“I think that screams for the crisis because it reaches across all grade levels [and it’s] reaching across the whole county, north, south, east, west. I think that’s the most significant.”

The grievance comes after four special education staff members testified during a Nov. 7 school board meeting. The four warned that special educators in the school system are reaching a breaking point because of underfunding and understaffing by the county.

The school system’s office of staff relations has received the grievance, a schools spokesman confirmed.

The grievance states, “We want to be clear that this crisis extends beyond school administrators, and that we believe they are doing everything in their power to support our staff and students. But even they cannot be in two places at once, and they cannot keep up with the extreme demands faced by our school system.”

A grievance hearing, including all grievants and Martirano, is expected to take place later this month. During the hearing, the school system will hear the grievance and make a ruling. Lenes doesn’t expect the school system to rule against the grievance.

All union members are being encouraged to participate in a letter campaign to the County Council and the Howard County Board of Education to urge them to work together and fix the staffing problem, Lenes said.

“We are very, very worried this problem can get worse,” Lenes said. “I hope we can highlight the gravity of this issue.”

This article has been updated to reflect Joshua Guy Lenes filed the grievance on behalf of the teacher’s union.

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