FCPS & COVID-19 (Return to Learn and Play)

This big question is: What is your position on return to school and return to sports?


First, let me refer to them as return to learn and return to play. I believe it is imperative, and should be one of the highest priorities of the BOE. This is communicated on my website www.sue4boe.com FCPS&COVID-19 tab and in my League of Women Voters Guide. As I state on my website, before we can get to #4 - accelerating return to learn and play, we need to ensure we are solid on the first three points:


1. communication

2. distance learning

3. safety

4. accelerating return to learn and play


1. Communication is critical. The goal of returning our children enrolled in FCPS to in person learning/sports should be part of a clearly articulated plan. Basically, our students, parents, families, staff and community should not be left in the dark or be blindsided by decisions of the BOE. All goals should have measurable objectives. Personally, I have not seen the objectives of the BOE clearly articulated which is why I think we see so many frustrated families. These voting outcomes should not be mysteries. Citizens should not have to guess the motives of the BOE. BOE votes should be affirmations that we have accomplished objectives and are ready to move to the next step. If I read correctly, the plan that was voted down was a hybrid only version of in person learning. Families would not have a choice: it would be all hybrid (part of the week in school and part at home remote learning). I would not be happy with that plan. I believe families and students should have a choice and right now I think two choices should be available. First would be to remain all remote. Second would be a blend of partial in person learning and partial remote. I would have been advocating for this type of plan since last May along with a big push to have a viable remote only plan because that will always be our fallback. For some students, it may be a permanent best choice so I would encourage the establishment of a remote education office within FCPS to give it a permanent 'home'. I have been involved with remote learning for over two decades. The best class I ever took was an online class and the best course I ever taught was an online course. You want the 'safety net' to work and I think, by and large, it is. Let me put it this way, our teachers have come a long way since the spring and I applaud them for their efforts. Doing distance learning well is no easy feat; everyone needs to understand that and recognize the work that our teachers, administrators, and support staff have done to get to this point. A third option that I would have also been working on is a complete return to full in person learning because that should be our end goal. We won't know how we are going to get there unless we have a plan. I'd call these phases of learning environments Phase 1 - all remote, Phase 2 - choice of all remote or a blend of in person and remote, and Phase 3 - all in person learning.


Metrics indicate we are ready to move to a Phase 2 scenario because Frederick County is experiencing a positivity rate consistent with return to blended learning guidelines published by the State of Maryland. So, if we get the communication aspect resolved then we move to point 2 below.


2. Distance learning. As I remarked above, I think our distance learning environment is stable. While it is not perfect, there has been a great deal of progress in implementing good practices in platform and methodology. Some students are thriving in this environment. However, there are still issues with accessibility, quality and logistical considerations in conducting a two track learning environment within FCPS. It is very important that logistics for this solution are viable and our teachers are supported wholeheartedly. These logistics should have been part of planning over this past summer. Once logistics are taken care of we can move to part 3.


3. Safety. The foundations of all safety plans could and should have started last spring. All plans should ensure all guidance from the federal, state, and local authorities are followed.  Ensure all custodial staff is trained in proper disinfectant protocols. Leverage relationships with FHH and DFRS and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) to ensure FCPS is adopting best sanitizing protocols. Publish a return to learn and play safety plan that includes summary as well as details of precautions, measurements, and expectations of returning staff to buildings in an all remote environment as well as expansion to bring small then larger groups of students to school for partial in person learning. There should be safety plans for schools and buildings, grounds, and transportation with additional plans for classrooms, cafeterias, extracurricular activites, and sports. The only way safety plans are going to be effective and to ensure we mitigate the chance of COVID-19 spread is to have complete compliance. This can be done by effective training, assigning a safety/compliance officer at each school/buildling along with assigning various staff at the school as safety team members who can report and correct compliance issues. Again, compliance is a critical factor in ensuring our schools are safe, that we reduce or eliminate the chance of COVID-19 transmission, and that effective mitigation measures are in place to ensure no spread occurs at schools.


Good plans for learning and safety will be scalable and flexible. Our students should be brought back to schools based on need (youngest learners, students with and IEP or 504 plan, students taking classes in trades like welding, culinary, building trades, etc.) until we are at practical capacity for a building. With current distancing guidelines, our capacities will be reduced but at least we can get those students who need (first) or want (second) to be in school actually back to school on a part-time basis.


Accelerating the safe re-opening of schools, athletics, and extra-curricular activities can be done if the above components are in place. The BOE should be working weekly to drive the vision of the plans because so much is at stake.


I just went through the experience of helping bring kids back to playing fields as the Safety Officer and Board Member of a local youth baseball/softball league. Our season was shut down in March. Shortly thereafter, the league's international headquarters published return to play guidelines. Districts then added more detail to reflect environments at a more local level. Local leagues then took the guidelines and created league based return to play plans. The seven page plan for our league was developed by a return to play committee and approved by our Board of Directors and then sent to the District for approval which it received. As Safety Officer, I was responsible, along with the league President, District Safety Officer, and our other Board Members, for executing the plan and ensuring compliance. We held meetings and training on components of the plan. All volunteers and player parent/guardians signed an agreement to comply with the plan. We adjusted our plan twice during the season and while at the beginning we weren't perfect in all the aspects of the plan we kept reinforcing the plan and as the season progressed we got pretty good at following the plan. The health department stated our plan was so good that there would not be a need to shut down even if COVID-19 breached the league because if we were being compliant with our plan, no player, coach or volunteer would ever meet the definition of having had close contact with another person who might subsequently test positive for COVID-19. As a result, our community league has been playing baseball and softball since mid-July without a single case of COVID-19 spread attributable to any league activities.


If elected to the Board of Education, I will take that same effort, desire and grit to safely get kids on community sports fields and apply it toward getting our FCPS students back into classrooms, sports fields, and extra-curricular activities.

 

Sue Johnson

for Frederick County Board of Education

(240) 815-1939

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