2021 | Schools

Teachers union’s drive-in protest draws hundreds opposed to MCPS reopening plan

In-person classes will start Monday for small percentage of students

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Hundreds attended car rally on Tuesday near Montgomery County Public Schools' headquarter in Rockville to protest the school system's reopening plan. About 700 students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on March 1.

Photo courtesy of Susan Loftus

Hundreds of people in their cars protested Montgomery County Public Schools’ reopening plan Tuesday near the school system’s Rockville headquarters, in a demonstration sponsored by the county’s teachers union.

MCPS is scheduled to send about 700 students back to in-person learning on Monday, following a year of virtual-only instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More students will return to classes on March 15.

The Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union that represents about 14,000 educators, has criticized the reopening plan.

Among the union’s objections are that the school system can’t guarantee a safe learning environment. It has asked for contact tracing and testing, the opportunity for all employees to be fully vaccinated, and data about ventilation in classrooms, among other demands.

The teachers union called the reopening plan “irresponsible” and took a vote of “no confidence” last week.

The union estimated that more than 1,500 people attended. Some estimated that about 900 cars showed up.

In an interview Wednesday, Susan Loftus, a union member who teaches physical education at a school in Bethesda, called the turnout “amazing.”

“Teachers were not protesting having to go back. We want to go back and we want things to be done right for kids. We want things to be done right for [the] staff,” she said.

Loftus said she worries that individual school principals have been put in charge of creating plans for students returning to in-person learning. That’s not meant to demonize principals, she said, but different interpretations of safe reopening at different schools “doesn’t always work out well for kids and for staff.”

“We want to teach kids, we want to do things well, and we called out MCPS on their plan. It’s full of holes,” she said.

Loftus said she is concerned about the school system’s ability to effectively contact trace and that there is a potential for “super-spreader events,” particularly at the high school level, where students frequently mix.

Photo courtesy of Susan Loftus.

Parents and members of SEIU Local 500 — a union that represents 20,000 workers at colleges, universities, public schools and nonprofits across the greater Washington region — also attended the protest.

“We wanted to find an option that was safe for our members, but that they felt they could voice their concerns,” Cindy Lotto, a social studies teacher at Gaithersburg High School and board member of the union, said of the rally.

Lotto said she worries that the reopening plan is being implemented “in all different schools, in all different ways.”

“The plan that’s in effect has left so many community members and educators confused as to what is happening, and with that comes a sense of fear and distrust. But we want to return back to a safe environment, where we can support our students and be safe and reflective,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com