PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD — Teachers rejoiced when the school system announced that classes would be online until at least January. The Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, a local teachers union, voiced its support on Thursday.
“Our members have been very clear that they are most comfortable continuing to use and develop distance learning strategies,” union President Theresa Mitchell Dudley said in press release.
The teachers’ support comes the day after the school system said distance learning will continue until at least Jan. 29. Classes will start on Aug. 31.
Earlier this week, the state teachers’ union and PTA said they prefer to start the fall semester with virtual learning. Prince George’s County is the second in Maryland to commit to starting the school year online. Montgomery County was the first.
Prince George’s County schools have been closed since the state superintendent, Karen Salmon, shut down all Maryland public schools in March. The school system will remain closed until Salmon and Hogan indicate otherwise.
Prince George’s County continues to have the most coronavirus cases in the state, surpassing 20,000 infections on Wednesday. Nearly 700 county residents have died from the virus.
“Prince George’s County Public Schools and our county is the epicenter for COVID-19,” PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson said at a Wednesday press conference.
With classes continuing online, equity and technology becomes a top concern for the school system and teachers alike. The teachers’ union is most worried about disproportionate internet access across the county.
Distance learning requires an internet signal, and not everybody in the county has Wi-Fi. Schools have offered drive-up Wi-Fi throughout the pandemic, but teachers say that is not enough. Students cannot adequately learn in their cars, completing assignments on their phones, teachers say.
The union is currently pushing a petition to address this inequity. The effort calls for Verizon and Comcast to provide free internet to students and educators.
“We have a moral and legal obligation to provide quality public education to all students, not simply to those who have internet access,” the petition says.
Goldson said PGCPS would assure that every student has a laptop or iPad before classes begin. The school system is also working to set up wifi hotspots for students who cannot connect to the internet at home, Goldson added. Parent support centers throughout the county will help families with technological support.
Schools will continue to provide meals while students learn from home. All 206 schools will continue their free meal service two days per week, Goldson said.
PGCPS is currently writing a report on what support families will need to make it through the school year. That report will be available on the board’s website next week. The board of education will hear that report at a meeting later this month.
While clubs are allowed to continue virtually, sports cannot. Athletic programs will only resume when students are allowed back in school buildings.
Teachers, however, are allowed in the schools. Goldson said teachers can stream lessons from their classrooms if they choose. This option will create a comfortable environment for students and let teachers use extra resources, she said.
“We all want to have our children and our staff back in buildings the way that we used to,” Goldson said. “Unfortunately, we are not at a time where I feel comfortable that we can move forward with excellent delivery of instruction and keeping our children safe with them physically being in our buildings .”
Goldson said the school system will offer an update about the county’s status on Dec. 1. From then until Dec. 18, families can voice whether they would prefer to start a hybrid model or continue with distance learning.
Under the hybrid option, students would attend in-person classes twice per week and continue with online classes for the remaining three days. If implemented, the hybrid model would start on Feb. 1, the first day of the third marking period.
Goldson said PGCPS will not return to a fully in-person model at any point during this school year.
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This article originally appeared on the Bowie Patch