Virtual Learning Requires Flexibility and Safe Working Conditions

Washington County Board of Education

We write to you not only as educators, but as community members and parents. We are concerned that WCPS’s current plan to require educators to return to their school sites beginning August 24th (while 11- and 12-month colleagues are already back and at risk) is unsafe and unnecessary. On July 29th, Governor Hogan stated, “We find ourselves at a fork in the road—a critical turning point where we could either continue making progress and continue heading in the right direction, or we could ignore the warnings and spike back up like much of the rest of the country.”

On August 4, 2020, WCBOE members Pieter Bickford, Linda Murray, Wayne Ridenour, Stan Stouffer, and Melissa Williams all spoke in favor of educators having the flexibility to work from schools or remotely to best meet the needs of students engaged in distance learning. Dr. Michael made clear that all employees must report to schools to execute distance learning. The mandate to not allow teleworking for teachers is doing what Governor Hogan advised against: “ignoring the warnings.”

Throughout the pandemic, the governor has been advising that employees who can telework should telework. On July 29th, when addressing plans to pause reopenings, Hogan specifically stated that work outside of the home is a “higher-risk location” because contact tracing data shows that 54% of recent transmissions occurred in work outside the home, a riskier location than both indoor dining (23%) and indoor retail shopping (39%). This data is extremely alarming to staff who are being ordered back to work sites with no benefit that could begin to measure up to the possible harm for us, our families, and our communities.

By requiring staff to report daily to their assigned locations, WCPS is also going against the major guidelines put forth by the CDC, OSHA, and the Maryland Department of Health:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Here are some strategies that businesses can use: Implement flexible worksites and implement flexible work hours."

2. US Department of Labor

"Establish flexible worksites and flexible work hours."

3. Maryland Department of Health

"Continue teleworking whenever possible. Give employees flexibility regarding returning to the office."

All WCPS Unit One members have WCPS devices to facilitate distance learning. WCPS plans to redeploy devices for many Educational Support Personnel this fall. The foundation for successful distance learning was started this spring and strengthened via professional development this summer.

The only reasoning for educators to work from their buildings that we have heard from WCPS and Superintendent Michael is that “we work better together” and teachers are too distracted at home. That rationale is inadequate. First, if teleworking were to be an option, would WCPS not trust its educators to come to the buildings to utilize resources as needed? How does WCPS think its educators have been completing their online training in the new learning platform this summer? Educators are probably one of the most well-versed professionals in working from home; after all, before the pandemic, it was well known that we spend countless hours on nights and weekends--with our resources--generating the quality instruction that WCPS values and professes to deliver.

While for some staff, their school buildings are the best location to effectively instruct virtually, for others, their homes are better to preserve their and their family's health. To provide the families of Washington County with the best possible educational opportunities within the limitations of virtual education, educators deserve the trust and space to be healthy, creative, and professional.

WCPS plays a vital role in either decreasing or increasing the spread of the virus. To use the Governor’s words, WCPS has come to a “fork in the road”- will it take unnecessary risks or do whatever it can to stop the virus in its tracks in our community? Providing educators the option to telework is a simple and necessary decision to help keep our community safe.”

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To: Washington County Board of Education
From: Carol Y. Mowen

Providing educators with the option to telework from remote locations or to work from school buildings is in the best interests WCPS educators. Educators are committed to the successful implementation of distance learning, as they were in the spring. WCPS plays a vital role in either decreasing or increasing the spread of COVID-19. To use the Governor’s words, WCPS has come to a “fork in the road”- will it take unnecessary risks or do whatever it can to stop the virus in its tracks in our community? As elected Board of Education members, you have the ability to protect the educators of WCPS. Providing educators the option to telework is a simple and necessary decision to help keep our community safe.