2022 | Schools

UPDATED: Montgomery County teachers declare ‘no confidence’ in MCPS’ handling of COVID-19

District’s ‘negligence’ caused ‘series of negative consequences,’ union says

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This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. Jan. 13, 2022, to add comments from the administrators union’s letter.

With about 94% voting in favor, Montgomery County teachers on Wednesday passed a resolution of “no confidence” in school district leaders’ ability to handle the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a text message Thursday morning, Montgomery County Education Association President Jennifer Martin wrote that about 7,000 votes were cast in total. The union represents about 14,000 teachers.

The vote is a formal pronouncement by county teachers that they do not believe in Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight, the school board and other leaders’ capability “to effectively address the current crisis in our schools,” according to the resolution.

It does not force any specific actions from the district’s administration.

“MCPS leadership has consistently shown a dereliction of duty and a lack of competence. We demand immediate action to address our concerns,” the resolution says.

The resolution says MCPS has failed to “provide clear metrics and criteria to guide decisions, negligence of which has resulted in a series of negative consequences.”

The consequences include a failure to provide a “proactive, reliable and timely testing program;” failure to address the growing number of student absences and staffing shortages; failure to collaborate with community members, students and teachers; and failure to communicate with community members and employees, “resulting in deep mistrust of MCPS leadership.”

The resolution says MCPS leaders’ decisions related to COVID-19 have “exacerbated the challenges our county has been facing.”

In a message to union members Thursday morning, Martin wrote that McKnight has met with union leaders “several times” in recent days for “substantive discussions about a better plan.”

“While we appreciate MCPS top leadership has invited us to the table, it remains to be seen if they are listening to us and if they will do what is needed to address the crisis we are facing,” Martin wrote.

The vote of no confidence is the second one the teachers union has passed in the past year.

In February 2021, about a month before the first group of students returned to buildings for the first time in 18 months, the union “overwhelmingly passed” a resolution of no confidence calling the district’s reopening plan at the time “irresponsible.”

Jack Smith was superintendent at the time.

The 2021 resolution said the district was not equipped to implement the plan and it risks students’ and staff members’ safety.

At the time, MCEA demanded that MCPS implement a contact tracing and COVID-19 testing program, adhere to guidelines established by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention for reopening, and “provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.”

Administrators union says district no longer ‘elite’

In a letter to MCPS leadership on Thursday, the district’s union that represents administrators expressed dissatisfaction in the response to the pandemic following winter break.

The letter says the district has “always been a school district that others have looked up to as a model.” But, it says: “Unfortunately, it is our belief that due to poor communication and lack of a cohesive, consistent plan, we no longer hold that elite status.”

“We can no longer stand quietly and allow our members, the leaders of this district, to stand in the gap without the information or resources needed to support their local communities and offices,” the letter said.

It asks the district to “pause” in-person instruction to “take the pulse of the current state of COVID in our schools” to “develop our strategies related to operations, staffing shortages and contingency plans.”

It also asks for more collaboration with teachers, administrators, community members when making decisions, and to come up with a “viable solution” to a districtwide staffing shortage.

“We are looking for strong leadership from you,” the letter said. “Provide our members with the respect and working conditions they deserve so that we can continue to serve students and families well.”  

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