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It’s time to find a safe way to reopen Baltimore City schools | COMMENTARY

Principal Shandra Worthy-Ownes carries out a sign to remind students to social distance when coming into the building for summer school at Bernard Harris Elementary School in Baltimore in July. Some say Baltimore schools should also find a way to reopen now.
Principal Shandra Worthy-Ownes carries out a sign to remind students to social distance when coming into the building for summer school at Bernard Harris Elementary School in Baltimore in July. Some say Baltimore schools should also find a way to reopen now. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Oct. 16, the date Baltimore City Public Schools set to reassess its plan to conduct all virtual learning, is fast approaching. Ross Douthat, in his commentary citing Alec MacGillis’s recent work in ProPublica and The New Yorker, points out correctly that as a heavily minority, low income, and, yes, liberal city, we are hurting ourselves by allowing our liberalism to undermine the core tenets of the cause (“Ross Douthat column: Sabotage in the liberal city,” Oct. 6). Mr. MacGillis himself does a wonderful job of pointing to why we allowed this to happen. Specifically, because the message in July from the Trump administration was that schools should reopen, we decided that the opposite should happen. We did not base this on science but simply on the fact that if Mr. Trump said to do something, doing the opposite made the most sense. In this way, we mirrored the behavior we despise in this administration.

We can be even more specific than either of these writers has been though, when examining the precise situation in Baltimore City. The data concerning COVID-19 cases in Baltimore and in Maryland show that reopening schools makes sense. Data from countries, states, and other jurisdictions which have done so confirms this. We know that BCPS and Dr. Sonja Santelises want a return to in-person learning. We know that a significant number of parents want this option, and we can surmise that most kids feel the same way. Many teachers also want to return, but their collective bargaining organization — the Baltimore Teacher’s Union does not.

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We must respect individual teacher’s reasonable concerns regarding COVID. We can’t expect those in high risk categories to enter the classroom, and we must do all we can to protect each and every teacher who does return. Never has it been clearer just how essential — if I may use that word — our teachers are for the health and well-being of our kids, our families and our communities. As a member of a labor union and an essential employee, I have been reporting for work throughout the pandemic. My job requires me to enter crowded spaces, travel all over the country (including to COVID hot spots) and to work in close proximity to others. This is not completely safe; completely safe does not exist. Sometimes we just have to find the safest way to undertake an inherently risky endeavor. It is time for the BTU and BCPS to come together to find the safest way to reopen our schools.

Mike Jacobson, Baltimore

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