Advocates Call for Virtual Learning Start for Schools

online, education, internet The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), Maryland Parent Teacher Association (MD PTA), and the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) jointly called for virtual learning for the fall semester of the 2020-21 school year.

In a letter addressed to Governor Larry Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon, advocates penned a request to begin the 2020-2021 school year with virtual learning and instruction for at least the first semester. While the letter does mention the possibility of exceptions in districts with “the very lowest levels of infection and community spread,” advocates reasoned these districts should focus on a “limited hybrid model with very small groups of students” for whom equity concerns around extended virtual learning are greatest.

We need to face reality: too many schools in Maryland have restrooms that
lacked soap or paper towels on a normal day before the pandemic. In the face of no additional funding at the federal, state, or local level—let alone threatened budget cuts—it is not realistic to believe that all schools will be equipped with additional and more expensive necessities to stay safe
on a daily basis.

The letter called for a decision to be made now, allowing each district a full six weeks to focus and plan around the “understood model of learning.” Additionally, advocates stated that districts would be better prepared if the state must reverse course  and move back into Phase 1 or a full quarantine.

The most prudent course of action now is to focus on how we can provide the highest possible quality of virtual learning during the first semester of the school year, during which time we hope that the virus is mitigated to a level that will allow for a subsequent expansion of in-person learning. To do that, we must focus our plans and resources to:

  • reach a 1:1 student to device ratio as soon as possible;
  • increase internet access to students and educators who lack it at home;
  • continue to run school-based meal services;
  • expand professional development for educators and training and resources for students and families to increase virtual learning fluency;
  • engage in trauma-informed practices; and,
  • deploy crisis intervention teams where needed.

These are the immediate needs that must be addressed with the limited time and resources districts have before the school year begins. We must concurrently build long-term plans for how we will address the learning gaps and inequities that we have always known to exist and combat the structural factors that prevent Black and Brown students from receiving an equitable education and opportunity.

The letter did address the awareness of challenges associated with virtual learning for parents, educators, and students – and urged local leaders and employers to be accommodating to parents, “similar to what was done for healthcare workers.”

Read the full letter.

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