2022 | Schools

Teachers considering ‘no confidence’ resolution on MCPS COVID-19 response

If passed, resolution would be second of pandemic

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For the second time in less than a year, Montgomery County teachers are poised to take a vote of “no confidence” in the school district’s response to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, a resolution was sent to all members of the county’s teachers union that, if passed, would send a strong statement to the state’s largest school district that many of its employees don’t support its COVID-19 plan.

The Montgomery County Education Association represents about 14,000 teachers. The union’s representatives passed the resolution in an emergency meeting on Monday, then sent it to all members on Tuesday.

Results are expected by Thursday, according to union President Jennifer Martin.

If passed, it would be a formal pronouncement that union members do not support Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight, the school board and other leaders in their handling of the pandemic and its impact on schools.

The union is not opposing in-person learning. In fact, union leaders have been vocal in their support of keeping school buildings open, but have emphasized the need to do so safely.

Instead, the union’s members have said they are frustrated, feel unsafe and want a better plan to respond to the snowballing problems the district is facing.

“The members of the MCEA declare that we have no confidence in the ability of current members of the Board of Education or Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight to effectively address the current crisis in our schools caused by the effects of COVID-19,” the resolution says. “MCPS leadership has consistently shown a dereliction of duty and a lack of competence. We demand immediate action to address our concerns.”

Frustrations have been boiling for several weeks, but came to a head last week when a series of missteps and gaps in communication from district leaders caused confusion.

The list of problems includes bus shortages, staffing problems, high COVID-19 rates, troubles accessing tests and masks, a lack of timely and transparent data about the virus’ spread in schools.

“We do feel the system is in crisis,” Martin said.

An MCPS spokesman was not immediately able to provide a comment on Tuesday afternoon.

If passed, the vote of no confidence would be the second time during the pandemic the county’s teachers have expressed such dissatisfaction in MCPS’ response.

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.”

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.”

It also asked that the district release data about ventilation results of each classroom and office before teachers return to buildings, and provide updated air quality controls as needed.

In some schools, MCPS planned to have educators teaching both virtual and remote classes simultaneously, which the union argued will require additional support staff members that the district was not prepared to provide.

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