2021 | Schools

MCPS, teachers union reach tentative agreement about returning to buildings

Some issues under joint negotiation alongside other unions

This story was updated at 3 p.m. Feb. 15, 2021, to clarify the procedure for returning to schools for symptomatic illnesses, as outlined in the tentative agreement.

The Montgomery County teachers union has reached what it calls a “tentative agreement” with the public school district about returning to buildings for in-person classes.

The agreement, announced Saturday, outlines working conditions for the roughly 14,000 educators the Montgomery County Education Association represents.

The agreement establishes:

• Teachers may take leave with pay to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
• All employees and visitors must sign in when they arrive at a school building to help potential contact tracing efforts.
• Students and staff members who receive a positive COVID-19 test “but never exhibited symptoms” cannot return to schools until 14 days after the positive test. Students and staff members who had symptoms may return after receiving a negative test result or other diagnosis, or they are fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.
• Face coverings are required for students, staff and community members, and will be provided by the district if individuals do not have their own.
• Improvements will be made to ventilation systems. Buildings may be closed if equipment is not functioning well.
• Water fountains will not be functional, but water filling stations will remain on. In schools that don’t have water filling stations, “cooler stations” will be provided.
• If a staff member has been directed to quarantine due to a positive test or exposure to the coronavirus, they will be reassigned to a remote position. If remote work is not possible, the staff member will be placed on leave with pay.
• “Unusual and imperative leave” with pay will be granted to staff members who “must care for a child whose school or place of care is unexpectedly shut down” or unavailable due to COVID-19 and to employees providing care for someone who has tested positive for the virus.
• Educator preference is a factor in returning to school buildings.
• Staff meetings will be conducted virtually to avoid gatherings.
• There is an option to take a leave of absence or resign “without prejudice” if not approved to work remotely.
• “Site-based Health and Safety Committees” will provide “guidance and support to practices necessary to minimize risk to employees and students.”

The agreement is not final until ratified by the union and approved by the Board of Education. The MCEA message on Saturday said the union is jointly bargaining with other employee unions on several topics, including instructional models, hazard pay and “systemic inequities.”

Despite the tentative agreement, in its message to members, MCEA leaders wrote that they “still feel MCPS’s current reopening plan is short-sighted and does not prioritize student and staff health and safety.” The sentiment builds on a public statement released by the union on Thursday that called the school board’s unanimous vote to begin reopening schools on March 1 “irresponsible.”

“This is just the latest offense in a bungled effort to return students to school buildings,” the MCEA statement said. “… The current MCPS plan requires more space, more people, and more resources than are now available to successfully implement this planned reopening of school facilities.”

The first group of about 700 students — less than 1% of the student body — will return to schools on March 1. Other students will begin to phase back into buildings March 15. Students were last in schools for regular, in-person classes on March 13, 2020.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com