WCTA's "Return to Learn" Info/Updates for Members

WCTA leaders continue to be in dialogue with WCPS administrative leaders and the elected members of the Washington County Board of Education to advocate for optimum learning for all WCPS students as well as optimal working conditions for all WCPS staff. Check this webpage for ongoing updates regarding the 2020-2021 school year.


September 15, 2020 Updates

WCPS Moves to Stage 2 on 9/16; WCTA Continues to Communicate on behalf of Students, Staff, and the Community

Schools are welcoming back students to schools. WCPS and the WCBOE have made that decision, and WCTA has continued to advocate for safe working conditions, access to PPE, more planning time, and even the postponement of the September 16th date long enough for WCPS and each school to resolve the many issues surrounding logistics, rosters, etc.

Be strong and focus on your students. Don’t get bogged down in the logistics and challenges that are outside your control.

Take time for YOU as Stage Two begins. If you don’t take time for you, you will be no good to your students, your colleagues, your friends, your family, or yourself.

Masks

Masks are mandatory. All employees must wear masks in open schools, common areas, hallways, restrooms, etc. Please wear a mask to protect your health and the health of your colleagues and your students. It is a WCPS expectation. Employees are subject to discipline for not wearing a mask.

PPE

WCPS is responsible for supplying PPE to schools. If you are not adequately supplied, contact your admin and/or WCTA. If you are asked to sanitize student workspaces, use the sprayer, to not touch the sanitizer or wipe the desks to protect your health, especially without gloves.

School Supplies

WCBOE has approved the purchase of several thousand basic school supplies. Their arrival remains TBD, but clearly, most schools do not have them in advance of the students’ scheduled arrival tomorrow. Ask your building admin about the status of the order.

Coverage/Absorption

There are options, and collegial discussion should take place to address the situation. A colleague or teammate absorbing the students (all or most of them) of a teacher on leave for an extended time is not an acceptable solution if/when a teacher takes leave. If you have been asked or told to absorb a colleague’s class(es), contact WCTA.

Washington County Board of Education Meetings

The WCBOE met on September 15, 2020, in person, but the meeting room remains closed to visitors. On behalf of WCTA, Neil submitted written public comment requesting additional planning time for staff, especially since rushing to welcome students on the 16th has uncovered several issues to be resolved by school-based personnel.

WCTA Scholarship Crab Feed and Raffle

Due to the pandemic, the annual Crab Feed is cancelled. The raffle is taking place and a winner will be drawn on October 21, 2020. The winner receives an at-home crab feast OR $100. Your $5.00 donation funds scholarships. Imagine if we could sell 400 tickets… That’s a nice chuck of money in the scholarship fund. Ask your building representative(s) or contact Jamie at WCTA for your tickets.

Negotiations- No change since last email?! No response from WCBOE.

WCTA submitted a proposal to WCBOE in time for the BOE to review during their last meeting (September 1, 2020).

Do you have questions for the Board of Education candidates?

The League of Women Voters is hosting a BOE forum this week.

Election Forums in 2020:

 (All to be held online via our Facebook page. Click here to figure out how to connect!)

  •         September 17, 2020, 7:00 p.m. - Board of Education
  •         September 24, 2020, 7:00 p.m. - Hagerstown Mayor and Council
  •         October 15, 2020, 7:00 p.m. 6th District Congressional

Submit your questions for Board of Education candidates now or during the forum to
BOEQuestions@LWVMD.org

Questions for the candidates for Mayor and/or the Hagerstown City Council should be emailed to
HagerstownQuestions@LWVMD.org

6th District questions go to 6thDistrictQuestions@LWVMD.org

Thanks for your dedication to your students! They are lucky to have you in their lives.


September 4, 2020 UPDATES

Stay Positive, Stay Informed, and Stay Well

The opening week of school, from August 31 to September 4, was packed with announcements that have sparked many questions and requests for clarification. WCTA continues to meet with WCPS staff to discuss various questions and concerns. We don't have answers to many of the questions swirling around but we are committed to continued efforts to work together in the best interest of students’ learning and the health and well-being of all students, staff, families, and the Washington County community.

The presentation to the BOE last Tuesday included information that had not been shared with Association leaders prior to the meeting. How that impacts day-to-day instruction, work locations, etc. remains to be fully determined. If/when WCPS welcomes students back for in-person instruction on September 16th, staff will need to be on-site. All staff? Probably. If you are a teacher who has submitted requests for accommodations, follow up with WCPS HR asap. Remain in communication with Carlos about the status of your requests for accommodations.

Much remains unknown as a result of the WCPS plan approved by the WCBOE on Tuesday night. WCTA continues to meet with WCPS leadership to advocate for student and staff safety throughout the process. Communication, clear and effective communication, is essential at this time, and WCTA is hopeful that there will be collaboration among the employee groups and WCPS as the Return to Learn Stages evolve.

In closing, stay positive as the next steps are determined. Your Association representatives continue to advocate in partnership with community organizations and MSEA. 


AUGUST 29, 2020 UPDATES

Survey Results Now Posted

In July, WCTA completed a member/community survey seeking input/comments regarding how best to open for the 2020-2021 academic year. The results of the survey were shared with WCPS officials in August. If you would like to see the report, including all the comments provided, click here.

Washington County Commissioners: Lack of Support Affects our Schools

For their inability to appropriately fund public schools, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners has been labeled “low effort” by the state of Maryland multiple times in recent years. Again this year, the Commissioners failed to failed to fully fund the WCPS budget. During the August 25, 2020 Commissioners meeting, all commissioners made comments about the WCPS distance learning plan and/or the budget and how money is being spent (or not spent).

Vice President Terry Baker, a retired teacher, would like to, “Find out how maintenance of effort money works” because parents have decided to send their children to private schools.

President Jeff Cline followed up with, “We’d like to see the money follow the student, wouldn’t we?” VP Baker repeated his desire to know more about maintenance of effort.

Commissioner Keefer commented, “We don’t have much control over the Board budget, we do approve quarterly budget transfers… Maybe we could get a sneak peek… I’m sure there’s savings…” He followed up with a statement about how the money could possibly be reallocated for childcare expenses (instead of public education?).

Commissioner Meinelschmidt shared his written statement regarding his daughter’s distance learning protest.

Commissioner Wagner had no comment, “but I echo everything other commissioners said. I agree 100%.”

Washington County Public Schools relies on the county to fund its budget annually. By law, county government must fund education. But why must it take a state law to force county government to provide the minimum funding to provide public education? In the midst of a pandemic, as WCPS educators are working tirelessly to reopen virtually and preparing to safely reopen in-person, the same funding agents who struggle to provide the minimum funding now want to take money back? They want to take public tax dollars from WCPS and have “the money follow the student” to private schools?

Public tax dollars fund public education. Private dollars fund private schools. At a time when the county economy is recovering from a pandemic and tax revenues are purported to be drastically low, elected county officials want to siphon public tax dollars to private schools. By the commissioners’ logic, if revenues are higher than expected in a given year, the surplus should automatically be distributed to WCPS and other county agencies.

Our elected officials, who have been labeled low effort for years, must be held accountable. WCPS has been a good steward of the funding it has received, and the school system literally cannot afford further budget cuts, especially when the president of the County Commissioners implies that public tax dollars should fund private schools. Investment in public education is economic investment. What will it take for our elected officials to realize that?

Use the link to view and hear the comments from approximately 5:45-11:00.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMOdCnd0jjE


August 25, 2020 Reopening UPDATE

Virtual Opening Begins with Pre-Service Week

We hope your school year is off to a good start. In a way, reopening virtually has turned every teacher into a first-year teacher. Stay positive and focus on how you can connect with your students and effectively implement distance learning. Practice patience as you figure out what works and what needs to be modified. Communicate with your colleagues, especially special service providers and administrators, so that we can help our students achieve. Here are some opening "Notes and Reminders" as we move officially into the 2020-2021 Academic Year:

SAFETY PROTOCALS: Safety protocols, such as wearing masks in common areas, are not optional. WCPS, our employer, has published what employees must do to ensure public health, and all employees must abide by the protocols. Follow published guidelines and do not put yourself into a difficult position.

FLEXIBIBILITY OPTIONS: WCTA recommends that all unit members display professional courtesy and communicate with your building principal regarding whether you are working remotely or at school. If there is an emergency in a school building, administration needs to know who is on-site. Custodians need to know what rooms need to be sanitized.

PLANNING TIME: Planning time is guaranteed by the Negotiated Agreement. Article 7.14. The agreement states that a minimum of 250 minutes of planning, in blocks of a minimum of 30 minutes, is guaranteed each week. If your school has published a schedule that does not include a minimum of 250 of self-directed planning time, speak up. Start with a conversation with your building administration. If the issue is not resolved, please contact WCTA.

SUPPORT for ESP STAFF: WCPS notified all paraprofessionals that they were not to report to schools on the 24th before the WCBOE voted to allow teachers to work remotely. Many educators have asked for paraprofessionals to be utilized during distance learning. Suggestions may be submitted via the Google form. Don’t assume someone made the suggestion already. We need our complete ESP staff, and we support their use in distance learning in creative and supportive ways that align with our goals for students in our "Return to Learn" plan. 

SICK LEAVE BANK: Jamie Barrett, the WCTA office manager, is back in the office and working hard to assist members as they navigate membership forms, sick leave bank, and more. If you would like to be a member of the sick leave bank, and you are NOT already a member, Jamie is the person who can activate your membership.

NEGOTIATIONS UPDATE: Negotiations between WCTA and the WCBOE are ongoing. Both have submitted “best and final” proposals. Because the teams have not settled on language and salary for FY21, the terms of the current Negotiated Agreement remain in place. Your rate of pay is identical to last year’s rate of pay until the sides reach a deal.

*Because the Commissioners underfunded WCPS, both the A&S and the ESP units agreed to a 1% salary increase for this year.


August 20, 2020 UPDATES

Addressing the Challenges of Virtual Reopening: Together, We Can

Tuesday night’s Board of Education discussion exemplifies the many challenges surrounding virtual reopening. Their deliberations ended with a vote on a motion to permit educators the flexibility to work remotely from their homes or from schools. The decision was made on a 3-2 vote with Mr. Bickford, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Ridenour, and Mrs. Williams voting for, Mrs. Fischer and Mr. Guessford voting against, and Mr. Stouffer abstaining, with concurrence from Mr. Bokoum (the student member is not officially counted). Now that this decision has been made, the processes/procedures for the implementation of this decision will be determined by Dr. Michael and the administrative staff at each building.

The vote also exemplifies the impact of effective member activism. Thank you for your engagement on this issue - our advocacy has enabled this new path forward for the reopening/virtual learning that will kick off the 2020-2021 academic year. WCTA leaders and members displayed professionalism while advocating for students and educators in recent weeks. Hundreds of emails were sent. 2,484 signatures were added to the petition. As professionals, you deserve the opportunity to teach from your schools and remote locations to ensure the health and safety of yourselves, your colleagues, and your families. Last night’s vote means that our unit members (teachers, school counselors, OT’s, SLP’s, etc.) may work remotely or from schools, and all must adhere to the posted school schedules.

As we prepare for the virtual start of the school year, we must continue to display professionalism:

  • Support one another.
  • Reach out to and mentor our new colleagues.
  • Attend all scheduled events and classes starting Monday.
  • Be aware that your social media activity may be monitored, so be mindful of how your comments could potentially be interpreted or misinterpreted when posting/communicating in WCPS groups and your private accounts.

Next Steps: Continue to advocate for equity and opportunities for our students in this new era. Our students need us. Continue to work for resources, access to devices and WiFi, and effective, age appropriate schedules. Continue to help students feel comfortable in virtual classrooms. Build relationships. Engage them in new, creative learning activities.

Partner with administrators to determine how we can utilize our ESPs during distance learning; they are essential to the success of our students. Our school system cannot afford to lose these valued educators. They are at-risk of losing positions, and we must fight all attempts to furlough our colleagues.

Stay positive. Stay strong. We have the tools, skills, and dedication to execute distance learning plans successfully and prove to the BOE and WCPS that the option to work remotely is the right decision for educators and students.


August 14, 2020 UPDATES

WCTA Advocacy and Action

As the start of the 2020 school year rapidly approaches, WCTA advocacy and action continues. Over 200 members attended this week’s Zoom session. Carlos presented a snapshot of the work WCTA has engaged in since March regarding working conditions related to the COVID shutdown. In addition to meetings, calls, and emails, he has submitted legal action (appeals and grievances) related to contractual items during the shutdown and into the summer.

The current Negotiated Agreement between WCTA and WCPS remains in place. All current working conditions language, such as workload, planning, duty free lunch, and CFIP remain in place. Contact Carlos if you have questions about your workload, workday, or other articles, such as Safe Working Conditions.

Members asked for an opportunity to take action to support teachers having the option to work from schools or from remote locations. As a result, WCTA launched a petition, which will be submitted to the Board of Education prior to Tuesday’s virtual BOE meeting. Some Association members are comfortable reporting to schools, others are not. The petition asks for professional educators to have the option to determine the worksite (schools or remote locations) that best meets their individual circumstances.

Dozens of questions were submitted to WCTA. Many cannot be answered because WCPS does not have the answers. Here’s a brief snapshot.

  • Families First Leave. Many must be answered on a case by case basis. In short, members are encouraged to complete the WCPS doc if leave may be needed. Members who request medical accommodations are encouraged to contact Carlos if their requests for accommodations are denied.
  • Mask protocol. WCPS requires masks to be worn by all employees in common spaces. That is an expectation and must be followed by all employees. How, when, and where masks are to be worn in open schools remains unclear. WCTA continues to request a clear answer that ensures the safety of all employees.
  • Substitutes/Coverage. Personnel at WCPS have responded differently, but WCTA has been told that substitutes will be available. Will they report to your classrooms? TBD. Will they report for only one-day absences? TBD. Will substitutes report and cover for extended leave, such as for COVID protocol, and from what location? TBD. If I am asked to quarantine but still able to work, will that be permitted (remotely from my home)? Under the current plan - No. Will teachers be forced to absorb students when colleagues are on leave? WCTA opposes that per the Negotiated Agreement and language that addressed coverage and equitable duties.
  • Learning Packets. The current WCPS plan does not include paper packets for students.

Members asked for some talking points if they wished to support an option to work remotely.

  • Flexible working conditions. Allow educators to work from their their schools, homes, or other remote locations. Epidemiologists and other community health experts have made clear that working from home is the safest option for workers, reducing interaction and preventing the spread of COVID-19. By mandating that educators work from their schools, WCPS is increasing the COVID exposure risk to educators and their family members.
  • Increased planning time for educators to address the impact and steep learning curve related to distance learning, especially since Dr. Michael has made clear that there will be more time spent online with students and that the expectations will be higher.
  • A blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, utilizing a variety of digital resources. Incorporating support personnel into the digital learning plan to assist students, facilitate breakout rooms, small groups, etc.
  • Flexible workday for educators. Allow educators the professional discretion to work their 7.5 hour day to best meet the needs of their students and the families they serve. Working in schools from 8:30-4:00 restricts educators from working with students/families in the evening hours. For example, working parents often require assistance when they “teach from home” in the evenings. If teachers choose to flex their workday, they can be available to work with students and families. Teachers with children will need to support their own learners in the evenings, preventing them from spending hours planning, teaching, and tutoring after their workday. A rigid, in-school schedule inhibits the ability of educators to support their students during distance learning.

BOE email addresses:

willimel@wcps.k12.md.us

stoufsta@wcps.k12.md.us

bickfpie@wcps.k12.md.us

fischjac@wcps.k12.md.us

guessmic@wcps.k12.md.us

murralin@wcps.k12.md.us

ridenway@wcps.k12.md.us

student-rep@wcps.k12.md.us (Kevin Bokoum is the newly-elected student member)

New Teacher Academy

Joni Burkhart and the WCPS mentors are hosting a hybrid NTA next week. Joni has invited WCTA to participate both virtually and in person. WCTA members who would like to welcome and cheer on new staff are encouraged to do so at North Hagerstown High School and Williamsport High School. Members, with or without signs and noisemakers, are encouraged to join the welcome wagon, outside, socially distanced, from 7:00am-8:00am on MONDAY (8/17). We can do our part to make our new colleagues feel welcomed during these stressful days.

Next Board of Education Meeting: 8/18/2020

BOE meeting is Tuesday, August 18th at 6:00. It's a virtual teleconference, so listen online.

Check (and bookmark) the website and FB page for updates.


August 13, 2020 UPDATES

Request for Flexibility for Telework Option:

WCTA has asked the elected members of the Washington County Board of Education to support teachers who have requested the option to work from schools or from remote locations. To see what we have requested and to add your name, follow this  Action Network petition link requesting support for this telework option for WCPS staff. The petition includes an option for you to provide additional comments after reading through the petition. After signing, you may share the petition via multiple channels so that together, we can use our collective voices to advocate for the trust and respect professional educators deserve.

Clarification regarding the Safe Schools Training Modules Communication:

WCTA reached out to WCPS leadership and the WCBOE regarding the recent email communication about Safe Schools trainings, requesting dedicated time and/or compensation for completing the trainings outside the workday or work year. In his response, WCPS Superintendent Dr. Boyd Michael said that the email communication was not meant to imply that teachers had to complete the trainings prior to the preservice week that begins August 24 but rather that teachers could if they chose to do so. If you misunderstood the intent of the communication from HR and you completed the trainings because you thought you were required to do so prior to the contracted work year that begins August 24, please contact Neil for more information. (NOTE: This post has been updated to correct an inaccuracy of interpretation posted to this page on 8/12/2020.)