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Union politics hurts Maryland students | COMMENTARY

Karen Salmon, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, speaks at a news conference in Annapolis, on Thursday, Aug. 27, when state officials announced all Maryland schools could move forward with some level of in-person instruction. Gov. Larry Hogan is standing left.
Karen Salmon, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, speaks at a news conference in Annapolis, on Thursday, Aug. 27, when state officials announced all Maryland schools could move forward with some level of in-person instruction. Gov. Larry Hogan is standing left. (Brian Witte/AP)

The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) is following many other teachers unions fighting to keep teachers, and therefore students, out of schools. Cheryl Bost, the president of the MSEA, has consistently put forward obstacles to schools offering in-person learning. But this position, shared by many Maryland education officials, isn’t founded in public health or the welfare of students. It’s a political position.

Before school began Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state health officials said school districts were allowed to reopen if there were fewer than five cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in their jurisdiction and if the test positivity rate was below 5%. Governor Hogan said all 24 Maryland school districts had met the new state bench marks and should begin reopening school facilities.

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“As a result of our improved health metrics, every single county school system in the state of Maryland is now fully authorized to begin safely reopening,” the governor said. “Nearly everyone agrees that there is no substitute for in-person instruction.”

This positive news should have been celebrated, but it wasn’t. Ms. Bost and education officials had consistently stressed that science must be followed so that children and teachers remained safe. However, when the science was followed and health metrics were observed, it became clear they were ignoring the cold hard facts. They were playing politics.

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Ms. Bost wasted no time accusing Governor Hogan of “throwing school communities under the bus.” She urged people to consult health and safety officials before making school reopening decisions. Isn’t that exactly what Governor Hogan had done?

She called the governor’s announcement an “ambush” and “a recipe for chaos, confusion, distrust and deepening the inequities that too many of our students face.” An ambush is a surprise attack. Governor Hogan’s announcement shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it wasn’t an attack, unless Ms. Bost views herself as an adversary of the governor.

Ms. Bost’s public positioning is predictable. This is the same educator who accused President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of “a lot of rhetoric” when the administration highlighted medical recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which called for the safe reopening of schools and stressed the importance of in-person classes. Medical professionals know being in school reduces a child’s risk of abuse, drug addiction and suicide.

Schools offer a refuge for children who live in dangerous, dysfunctional homes. Schools offer regular meals to children who don’t get them at home. The school environment provides so much more for so many kids than simply a place to learn. The concerns raised by the AAP are not rhetorical; they are deadly serious.

At every opportunity, Ms. Bost and the MSEA push back on a return to in-person learning and in recent days, against live instruction as well. Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon wanted to require that every school district have an average of 3.5 hours of synchronous learning per day, five days a week by the end of September.

Ms. Bost immediately wrote a letter to the Maryland State Department of Education, claiming that such a requirement would upset student and family schedules — as if student and family schedules haven’t already been turned upside down due to the pandemic. When did a complete school day turn into a possible 3.5 hours?

Ultimately, the three-and-a-half hour requirement was approved, but school districts have until December to meet this standard. What does this mean for students from now until December? Can they count on one hour, two hours, or three hours, of live instruction? Frankly, they can’t count on anything, other than teachers unions doing whatever they can to keep kids physically out of school.

There are tens of thousands of students in Maryland who attend private and parochial schools. Private school education is a privilege only available to those who can afford it. Many of these students have already returned to campus and some sort of in-person learning. As the MSEA continues to advocate keeping kids out of school, it only widens the gap between those who can take advantage of a private school and those who cannot. This will continue to adversely impact those students who are already disadvantaged.

The MSEA needs to do some more homework on what is best for students. Keeping schools closed will only widen education gaps and deny students the opportunities to develop socially and emotionally among their peers. Closed schools keep vulnerable children at risk and unfairly impacts less advantaged communities. The political nature of the decision to keep schools closed is obvious. Parents, families and voters should take notice the MSEA has put politics above people.

Andrea G. Bottner (abottner@iwf.org) is senior adviser to Independent Women’s Forum who grew up in Annapolis and now lives in Montgomery County with her husband and son.

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