2021 | Opinion

Opinion: School board’s calendar change was unprofessional, disrespected community

There were so many questions, but so few answers

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As a concerned parent with two young children in MCPS, I took time off work to attend and testify at a recent Board of Education meeting. A week later, I was still reeling from what I witnessed.

The first time, the board was provided a last-minute agenda item and asked to vote without debate, information on potential impact, or, importantly, community feedback. The item came back again, with little notice, during a second meeting.

The agenda item was removing three more half days from the school calendar (another half-day was taken with little notice on Nov. 24) and giving eight days off to the central office staff. It passed 6-1 despite the consequences for those denied a voice in the decision-making process.

The entire process was unprofessional and downright deceitful. How could the board, in good conscience, vote on an important resolution without prior information or data on the potential impact of removing more in-person learning time?

Won’t this exacerbate devastating educational losses already incurred from school closures?

By the end of last year, only 47% of second-graders (and 24.7% of students getting free and reduced-price lunch) met literacy standards. Only 50.7% of fifth-graders (and 25% of students getting free and reduced-price lunch) met math standards.

Will children who receive special education services on select weekdays continue to lose out on critical services — like speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and compensatory services — withheld from them for a year, which had devastating consequences?

Notably, how will removing instructional time impact the glaring youth mental health crisis that is leading to more violence than MCPS has ever seen? We don’t know. No one was permitted to ask.

The superintendent touted that our elementary schools will provide more hours than the minimum required by state, but what stops MCPS from slashing educational hours to the bare minimum?

The original reason given for calendar changes was professional development, although a subsequent message to the community indicated it was to give teachers more time for lesson planning. How can MCPS approve an important measure without firm grounding behind it?

Nine extra hours will likely provide negligible respite. Meanwhile, more permanent efforts to alleviate workloads by hiring more substitutes, tutors, and mental health staff have been overlooked.

What steps have been taken to fill those positions? We don’t know. No one was permitted to ask.

The BOE develops and adopts a school calendar by December for the following year to “facilitate planning of the necessary logistics for effective participation in, and support of, school activities.

The FY 2021-2022 school calendar was adopted nearly one year ago. Families planned work schedules and time off around it.

Last-minute changes and unplanned half and full days off present significant hardships for working parents, particularly essential workers, who may not be able to take days off with short notice, or risk losing a paycheck.

How many elementary children will sit at home, unsupervised, due to abrupt changes? How many parents will have to take time off or bring children to work with them?

How many children will be absent on half days and risk truancy because the logistics of getting to and from school are not manageable?

When the board removed a half day in November, students could register for supervised activities through MoCo Recreation, although the program required payment, did not provide transportation, did not have many locations, and had extremely limited capacity.

The extent to which this resource is available to families for upcoming half days is unclear, but it is wholly insufficient for a school system as large and diverse as MCPS. Further, these child care programs are an inadequate substitution for in-person education.

So many questions. So few details. So little input from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.

A few Board of Education members spoke up, highlighting the need for parents and teachers to be part of the conversation. The request was cast aside.

The calendar modification failed initially — rightfully so. But, President Brenda Wolff and Board Member Shebra Evans implored everyone to keep voting (five times total) until a desired outcome was achieved, a brazen violation of Robert’s Rules of Order. (Watch the video, starting at about 4:43.00.)

Did the proposal change between votes? No. Did intimidation and condescending remarks directed at fellow board members achieve a predetermined goal? Yes.

Despite procedural violations, the BOE persisted with an emergency meeting and revote on Dec. 7, with no explanation why the resolution (which initially failed) required another revote.

Once again, the BOE did not allow community input or testimony.

MCPS was one of the very last districts in the nation to reopen last year. Now, students are having even more instructional time stripped away.

MCPS continues to water down educational resources and cut instruction time.

When will our board decide that educational losses require action and solutions that aren’t at the expense of children’s well-being? When will MCPS give students stability and consistency they deserve?

Sadly, the MCPS BOE has become the Board of Anti-Education.

Nikki Posnack lives in Bethesda.

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