WCTA Covid-19 FAQ & Distance Learning
Updated June 18, 2020 (End of School Year Updates)
Now that the school year has come to an end for students, graduations are winding down, and teachers are completing optional PD, closing out their classrooms, and helping school administrators with the myriad tasks necessary to closing out one school year while planning for the school year to come, it's time for one last "Member Update" post to this page.
What is the plan for next year?
Much is still unknown regarding "Back to School" plans for 2020-2021. The WCTA Board of Directors met with Dr. Michael and his team via a Zoom call last week, and we asked to be part of of the planning process moving forward so that we, too, can be at the table to put students first in all our deliberations regarding what the new school year will bring. It is our understanding from that conversation that the work of the "Students First Covid 19 Task Force" will be coming to a close because its work was primarily to see WCPS through the end of this academic year. Regarding next year, we learned during our call that the Zoom platform will not be in use for WCPS next year; instead WCPS will be moving to the "Google Meet" platform that is integrated into the Google "G-Suite" for Education. And, we can anticipate a change over to Chromebooks for all high school students during the coming year, but it is not anticipated that this change will occur all at once at the beginning of the year due to a variety of factors that impact how this will roll out.
What is the WCTA Commitment to Public Education all about?
With an eye toward the 100th Anniversary of WCTA that we will celebrate in 2021, earlier this school year, several members of the WCTA Board of Directors had begun working on a document to clarify what we believe as an Association of Educators. With additional input this spring spurred by the Distance Learning environment, we finalized this set of Belief Statements, and we are asking members to add their names to pledge their support and commitment to public education in Washington County. Neil and the rest of the WCTA Board members are inviting all educators as well as other members of the public education community to join our movement and to sign the pledge. Communities are in crisis, and public education should be at the core of all that is positive. Your signature is just one step in a multi-pronged, long-term effort to promote public education.
Have the WCTA and WCBOE finished the annual negotiations process yet?
No, the WCTA and WCBOE teams are still negotiating on several contract items, including salaries, for the coming year. The Board of County Commissioners has failed to fund the WCPS budget for next school year. As a result, WCPS has proposed several cuts, including fewer new positions, reduced funding for technology upgrades and maintenance, and reduced funding for salaries. At the early June Board of Education meeting, the A&S unit renegotiated their Agreement to reduce their 3% pay increase to 1%. All recorded meetings are accessible, and proposed changes can be viewed in BoardDocs via the WCPS website. If you believe our students deserve a fully-funded budget to prevent program cuts and more, contact the commissioners. Now, more than ever, our students cannot afford to be underfunded. Investment in education is an economic investment. Once negotations come to a close, WCTA members will receive information via the U.S. Mail about ratification and an email update from Neil regarding next steps.
What is the WCTA stance on the recent civil unrest in Maryland and across the United States?
As educators, we have an opportunity to be leaders and examples of compassion, respect, and equity. The pandemic has been traumatizing for many educators and students. The addition of Mr. George Floyd’s death and the protests in response to it have compounded the trauma for many. WCTA leaders are committed to stamping out systemic racism. We invite our members to utilize the MSEA/NEA resources that we have posted on the WCTA website. Check in on your colleagues, your students and their families, and your friends and neighbors.
If the crises we are facing are impacting your physical or mental well-being, utilize the Employee Assistance Program that is open to every employee.
This poem has special meaning to Neil as well as to many WCTA members (we see you English teachers!), and it is as relevant today as it was when Langston Hughes penned it. The strides made by civil rights leaders over the last century must continue into the near and distant future, and we must make the conclusion, “I, too, am America,” a reality. Please read the poem and consider how we can positively impact our communities.
By Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed---
I, too, am America.
Updated May 22, 2020 @ 5:00 PM
Since our last update to this page, school system leaders and teachers have continued distance learning while pivoting to end of year and summer school planning. Under these new working conditions created by the global pandemic, WCTA leaders have continued to advocate for teachers to be included in the planning and decision making process. Here are some Questions and Answers that Association leaders have been considering/fielding over the past two weeks.
Who is currently making decisions related to the end-of-year activities, summer school, and return to school plans?
Currently, WCPS has in place a "Students First Covid-19 Task Force" that includes selected administrators and teachers.
Are WCTA leaders part of the "Students First Covid-19 Task Force"?
While some of WCTA's teacher members have been asked by Dr. Michael and his team to serve on the task force, WCTA has not been given input into the selection of any task force members, and none of the current WCTA Board members, including president Neil Becker, has been asked to be part of the group. So, no, WCTA has not been asked to formally participate or recommend WCTA teacher-leaders to be included as the "voice" of the Association in the room/at the table.
Is it a concern that WCTA is not formally part of the "Students First Covid-19 Task Force"?
Yes, this is a concern - WCTA leaders want to ensure that different perspectives are considered and that equity is a priority in all decisions - equitable opportunities for students first and also equitable expectations and support for teachers/staff at all grade levels and from the various employee perspectives, from the art and band teacher to the school counselor and speech pathologst as well as from the perspectives of elementary, middle, and high school teachers.
Has WCTA been communicating with the members of the "Students First Covid-19 Task Force"?
Yes, WCTA President Neil Becker and Uni-Serv Director Carlos Mellott have been regularly sharing questions, concerns, and suggestions with the members of the task force.
Here are some of the more commonly shared communications (as of 5/22/2020). Some of these questions are exact quotes from WCTA members. Others are paraphrased. This list is posted here on the WCTA website so that WCTA members know that the Association is listening and is committed to sharing members' suggestions, questions, and concerns with Dr. Michael, the task force, and the elected Washington County Board of education members.
Task Force Representation
- It is essential that staff (all units) feel valued during Task Force decisions. All elements of the workforce deserve consideration.
- Why are the arts and physical education not represented on the task force?
- Why is tech ed and related programs not represented on the task force?
- Why is school counseling (Helen and Jeremy) not included on the task force?
- Why is athletics/physical education (Eric) not included on the task force?
- Why are ESP’s not represented on the task force?
End of Year/Summer
- “So I am totally on my own after the 12th? I don’t believe that. I don’t trust that MY ADMIN won’t mandate PD or meetings.”
- “So does that mean that (June 11) is now the official teachers last work day? Or do they still have to work I’m until the 22nd”
- “I leave the state for most of the summer. If I have everything finished (grades, room check out, and keys turned in), I am free to do what I want after June 11?”
- “There have been lots of discussions about self-directed days in June. You mentioned these and we spoke about how it is nice to have some choice and be trusted as professionals.
- Just curious, do Principals call these days "self-directed"? Are we absolutely required to do PD? There is a lot of discussion on our staff.”
- When can teachers access buildings? Are badges turned on. Can teachers access buildings other than 8:0-3:30?
- Teachers whose spouses work odd hours must access schools very early or in the evenings because children cannot accompany staff to schools. We must accommodate them.
- Will students get to keep their devices over the summer?
- If devices are returned to schools in June, who will sanitize them prior to library media staff and technology staff updating them and preparing them for next year?
- Teachers request flexibility to access schools throughout the summer, as they have done throughout their careers. The stress of the pandemic and distance learning makes June clean up less enjoyable. School visits throughout the summer, when teachers are comfortable, are essential.
- Teachers whose spouses work odd hours must access schools very early or in the evenings because children cannot accompany staff to schools. We must accommodate them.
- Some principals are creating scheduled times during which teachers can access buildings. Can teachers access buildings prior to June 8?
- Per the recent Smore for parents/families:
- Who will be handing out and collecting materials to and from parents from the 11th – 22nd? Admin? Paras? Teachers?
- Summer school: “The Smore makes it appear that it will be in-person, since transportation, breakfast, and lunch are provided. Is that guaranteed? I’ve heard that it will be via distance learning and only for students who have WiFi. If that’s the policy, it is inequitable and unfair to students whose families are not connected.”
Returning in the Fall
- “My biggest concern about Fall is what if I am not willing to go back with kids and put my own family at risk? Will there be online options for kids whose families feel the same way that I can teach? Will I have to take parental leave unpaid?
- I see grownups not able to keep on masks and social distance in public so how would we expect 5 yr olds to be able to do it day in and day out in a classroom?”
- Transportation/Logistics: RAMPS and Eastern already have very late dismissal and issues with the transportation department. Students are on-site well-beyond the teacher work day. How will WCPS address that if drivers have to sanitize the buses? Arrivals at RAMPS and Eastern will be even later if more buses/drivers are not added to the schools’ routes.
- Many classrooms are too small to keep the students socially distanced, especially portables.
- Will door handles and faucets be sanitized throughout the day? After every class change at MS and HS?
- Is WCPS able to obtain appropriate PPE and sanitizing supplies?
- Is WCPS prepared to distribute masks to students who arrive without them? Daily?
- How will paras in B-5, MSS, JDP, and other life skills environments maintain social distance? Many students require hands-on care and assistance.
- Will Dr. Michael and WCPS ease-up on the “bell-to-bell from day one” expectation? Students and staff need time to acclimate to one another and re-establish relationships. Mental health must be monitored as schools reopen (for both students and staff) due to trauma.
- Will WCPS distribute devices to preK-grade 2 students if distance learning is implemented in the Fall?
- “Relationships with my students are important. Covid closed us in March. By then I know my students. If we do distance learning at the beginning of the year, I won’t know my students. That must be taken into consideration.” (Note: Neil and Carlos have heard this one a lot, especially from preK, K, 6th, and 9th, because they will be new to their schools.)
- Will WCPS issue devices to ESPs?
- Arts/Encore/UARA teachers are concerned that their programs will not be valued during the reopening and the push for social distancing is in place. They are worried that their rooms will be taken and/or that they will be reassigned.
- Encore/UARA teachers are concerned about how they will be utilized next year. They wonder if they will lose their jobs because they are not teaching “tested material.” They are concerned that they or their positions will be redeployed.
- Will cafeterias, auditoriums, and gyms be used as classrooms. If so, where will the teachers who utilize those spaces go? Where will lunch be served?
- Will WCPS wipe down/sanitize lockers in MS/HS daily?
- Also, I know that these macbooks are OLD (as technology goes) and doesn't support what I would like to do....virtual background? not happening unless I invest in a green screen (or $1 plastic table cloth).
- Will they eliminate performance goals and SLOs for the Fall because of the unique situation?
- How can they not have WCTA on the task force? They did not take in account the different Special Ed needs (captioning, the issues that masks are going to cause so kids with hearing losses should be allowed to use cell phones for Google Live Transcribe, HIPA -licensure, etc… The Board-employed Interpreters, being ESP, weren’t working. Eventually they got special permission from superintendent to work because they are required for access to communication under ADA.
- Teachers have heard rumors that middle schools may be utilized for/by elementary students to keep folks socially distanced and that the MS students will be instructed via distance learning. Is that on the table?
- If rooms/schools will be utilized by other classes/grades, when will the teachers be notified so that their rooms can be properly packed and arranged and personal materials secured.
- Students in K-2 should also have a device to utilize in the classroom and at home.”
- “I did read about a few different models for instructional delivery; I was just trying to get a better feel of the expectations of instructors going forward into the next year. Additional training to drive school MSDE report cards and teacher accountability? What will be the teacher expectations or how will they be different than now?”
- “I also am concerned for ALL STUDENTS AND SCHOOL-BASED STAFF in the event they will be returning to school physically. If next year I am required to work on school grounds, even with gloves and a mask on a daily basis, I would like to have the option to give a timely notice of my resignation without penalty, or having to pay back my insurance premiums at the Cobra rates, or to leave with a bad name because I choose to resign for reasons related to COVID. I am very concerned for everyone in a school setting. It is high risk because of the contact and restroom use, and my age is almost at 60. I would like to be able to not earn a negative standing for a decision I might need to make to protect myself and my family. Later, as a vaccine might become available, I may need to seek other employment at a school district or another area of employment. I hope if I leave during the school year for concerns about Covid that it will not prevent me from getting another job in the future. I hope you might be able to respond to my two questions.”
- Itinerant staff will be adversely impacted by a hybrid schedule. How will WCPS accommodate them?
- “Some ideas included every other day, once or twice a week, etc. However, many schools across the county have teachers in already split positions like ENCORE and School Counselors. I don’t know how an every-other-day schedule or a one-or-two-day-a-week schedule would work for those staff who are already split.
- "I’m sure you have already thought of this, but as a counselor it is something I’m struggling wrapping my head around as the plans Dr. Salmon released has a clear emphasis on social and emotional learning and access to counselors.”
- Buses that transport MS and HS students to AA, WCTHS, and BISFA will be impacted by the need to sanitize each seat in each bus between the normal run and the run to AA, WCTHS, and BISFA. That will impact the student day and the driver’s time. PPE and sanitizer will need to be available for all buses to sanitize between runs.
- If a teacher is required to work daily but the teacher’s children are not, how will WCPS address that?
- Many WCPS teachers live in other states and MD counties. Reopening plans may look different.
- Teachers are worried that childcare providers may not be open or will be limited due to social distancing. What if they are required to return to work but their childcare is not available?
- How will WCPS/MSDE address this situation?
- When can teachers access buildings? Are badges turned on. Can teachers access buildings other than 8:0-3:30?
- “I think teachers should be a part of the task force so our voices and concerns can be heard. I feel like we don't really have any direction or expectations for us. I am concerned if I go back to work in the fall and my sons don't. We won't have childcare as our have closed. Maryland was so late in closing I was really stressing as to what I was going to do. I'm glad we closed just to ease the burden on families that don't live in Maryland. My concerns will now fall to what next year will look like.
- Please find a way for teachers (especially we veterans) to receive the large macbooks. The small screens and keyboards are wreaking havoc on my eyes, head (migraines) and the beginnings of carpel tunnel. Not kidding. When I was in the building, I took my own large monitor, speakers, and external hard drive (the WCBOE system isn't always reliable) and purchased a switcher with the appropriate adaptors for usage. Yes, out of pocket, to make my life easier and for my own health. Not bringing any of that equipment home (it's only 2 weeks...lol), I have been dealing with the baby monitor.
- MSB and MSD: those schools host students from across the state. How will WCPS students be guaranteed access to services if the state institutions modify their schedules differently than WCPS does.
If you have additional suggestions, questions, or concerns, please continue to communicate them with Neil and Carlos as well as with administrators and supervisors.
Educational systems and environments are entering a new era, and while there are many unknowns and unanswered questions, we are in this together, for the future of not only our own schools but for the entire educational enterprise that we have all dedicated ourselves to support. WCTA is committed to helping WCPS navigate these new uncharted waters, and we see opportunities within this crisis to improve equity for students and to improve educational outcomes for all through the innovations and changes that this new era will require.
Updated May 9, 2020 @ Updated 1:30 PM
This week, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week without the usual luncheons and balloons or other "at school" fanfare. It is the hope of WCTA that you felt supported and appreciated by your students, their parents/guardians, your administative leaders, and our community. Please know that WCTA leaders are supporting the efforts of our local teachers. We are living through an unprecedented time of upheaval that affects not only our schools but also all the various "normal activities of life" of our pre-pandemic communities, state, nation, and world.
Late Friday afternoon, WCPS teachers and staff received a "S'more" update from WCPS about end-of-the-year details for WCPS staff. While Neil and Carlos have been in constant communication with Dr. Michael's leadership team and had anticipated some of the information provided via the "S'more," they were not aware that the message was being sent out until they, too, received copies via email. So, most of the information below had been sent to WCTA members via their personal email addresses on Thursday, May 7. Please note that all information provided is subject to change based on Governor Hogan's executive orders and the changing parameters of Covid-19 throughout the state and region, as noted in the WCPS communication.
What's the Last Day of School - for students AND for teachers?
Student last day is June 10. Many administrators are announcing that June 22 is the last day for staff. That is now the officially announced date as of the Friday afternoon "S'more" update to staff.
How did WCPS land on that date?
- Ten “snow days” from March 16-27. All are expected to be made up.
- WCPS got a waiver for five (5) student days, not five staff days.
- PD Days on April 9 and 28 converted to student days.
- One PD day at the end of the year.
- Total of eight (8) staff days could be attached to the end of the year (see B, C, & D above).
- Teachers are contracted for 190 days, and WCTA has fought for teachers to keep full salary and benefits throughout the closure, and your implementation of the distance learning plan exemplifies your professionalism.
What is WCTA’s perspective on June 22?
Here are a few options that WCTA had proposed to WCPS executives and WCBOE:
- Given how much time and effort teachers have expended to develop and implement the distance learning plan, teachers deserve credit for the time they’ve committed over-and-above contractual obligations. As WCPS has done in years with blizzard winters, we’ve worked longer days and been given credit for that time.
- WCPS could call Memorial Day a “work day”, not a “student day”, and teachers could complete their contractual time on May 25th or on any day(s) to get credit for that staff day (but not engage in any meetings or student instruction).
- WCPS could give teachers credit for a day to two in lieu of a stipend for expenses incurred to execute distance learning from home.
- WCPS could waive days to express appreciation for teachers’ tireless commitment to WCPS and our students.
Add your voice to the voices of Neil and Carlos. You are the Association, and your voices matter. Last week we suggested that teachers log hours beyond your contractual day to bring to light how much time you commit to distance learning. In addition to nearly daily emails, calls, and/or meetings, I have submitted public comments to the BOE, but they are not “public” since the comment period is not broadcast.
You can contact individual members via the links on the BOE website. You may contact every BOE member and some WCPS executives in one shot with this link. Your stories are powerful. They need to understand distance learning life.
Here are Neil's comments to the from the May 5 Washington County Board of Education meeting:
“To the elected Board of Education and Staff,
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts during this virtual public comment period.
First, I join you in your recognition of all teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. WCPS is blessed to have approximately 1800 teachers dedicated to the success of our students. As a parent, I see first-hand the commitment of our teachers.
Second, I commend the WCPS building administrators and the WCPS instructional technology team for their roles in making the WCPS distance learning plan as successful as it is. You have probably heard the stories from other jurisdictions that had to pause or pull the plug on their online learning plans. WCPS continues to overcome a variety of roadblocks to make distance learning valuable for staff and students.
As I continue, I encourage the elected Board and WCPS staff to consider all possible options as the end of the school year is being calculated. Sure, WCPS teachers could be “on the clock” until June 22, 2020, but must they? Seven to eight days of virtual PD is a lot to ask after months of virtual instruction and PD. Teachers have committed themselves to the success of the WCPS Distance Learning Plan. Literally, in just days, they partnered with supervisors and administrators to develop and execute plans to support all students during the pandemic closing. Teachers, while they have always worked beyond their contractual hours, have done so exponentially during this crisis. Don’t rely just on my statements. Ask your former colleagues and the teachers of your children and grandchildren.
They will tell you that the learning curve was steep and intense. They will tell you about the hours spent planning, recording, uploading, downloading, and Zooming. They will tell you about their experiences trouble-shooting technology issues with students and their parents. They will tell you about the thousands of emails sent and received to master online platforms. Finally, they will tell you how much they miss their schools and their students, and that online learning, while a stop-gap, is not a substitute for face-to-face instruction.
Finally, consult with your colleagues in other Maryland jurisdictions as you work on the end of the year calendar. We can learn from one another. Although we like our data to be the best in the state, this is not a race or a competition. Students are the “winners” as we continue distance learning, but the work of the educators cannot be overlooked. Consider their dedication and commitment as the end of the year is considered.
In closing, following my signature is a letter to the editor I submitted to the Herald-Mail, and it captures my gratitude to my teacher colleagues. Its publishing remains TBD, but I share it with you today, and I will share with teachers on Wednesday.
Neil also posted these comments on the WCPS Facebook page this past Tuesday:
Submitted for April 7 meeting:
“To President Williams, Board members, and Dr. Michael.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts during this unique meeting format.
First, thank you for working with Dr. Michael and staff to create a BOE budget that attempts to meet the needs of as many of the students and families affiliated with WCPS. The increasing demands on all educators (ESP’s, Admin, and Unit One members) has created a variety of challenges never before seen in public education. WCTA will continue to advocate for a fully funded budget at the County Commissioner level.
Thank you, also, to WCPS and the WCBOE for the tireless efforts of educators to meet the needs of employees, students, and families during the Covid-19 shutdown. Thousands of our students rely on meals provided by WCPS for basic health and sustenance, and the WCPS food service team has stepped up to the challenge.
Thank you to WCPS and the staff of WCTHS who have created face shields to protect health workers in our community. Such action exemplifies putting skills and equipment to the best use possible.
Thank you to the WCPS IT team for working with employees to ensure that teachers, counselors, etc. have the tools needed to perform distance learning. Some areas of Washington County have limited internet capabilities, and educators are affected. WCPS IT staff have assisted teachers and administrators with connectivity issues.
As distance learning continues to evolve, I am compelled to share that, while WCTA supports efforts to supplement student learning during the closure, many concerns and hurdles remain. Equity is a significant hurdle. For our families without adequate technology, distance learning is challenging. Paper packets are available, but getting them to every family who needs them is challenging, too. Additionally, our EL students, whether they have access to the internet or not, face a different set of challenges because parents may lack the appropriate language skills to assist their students. WCPS must continue to address the needs of every student’s family and to increase our outreach to those families. The digital divide is highlighted during this crisis, as are the gaps that remain in providing top tier services to students experiencing poverty, students with disabilities, minority students, and EL students.
We are also aware that many employees and families have concerns about the safety and security surrounding some distance learning platforms. Zoom has been the focus of many investigations, articles, and inquiries. My own daughter, who attends a state university, has been notified that the school has banned the use of Zoom due to concerns related to safety and security. I am not shouting from the rooftops that distance learning is not appropriate, but I do have reservations about this one platform related to live, synchronous learning. I know WCPS administrators are examining all aspects of distance learning platforms; I am not insinuating that WCPS is not doing its due diligence.
In closing, thank you for the continued efforts of WCPS and the WCBOE to support learning during the pandemic closure. WCPS administrators have included WCTA in more communication recently, and that collaboration is essential to ensuring all voices are heard and that all variables are considered. We are confident that the collaboration will continue as distance learning evolves.
Please stay well during this health crisis.
Are the concerns and input of WCTA being addressed by the WCPS leadership team and the elected Board of Education?
While Neil and Carlos do have regular meetings with WCPS leaders and continue to be in email dialogue/Zoom discussions with various WPCS administrators regarding a number of issues and concerns related to the implementation of the Distance Learning Plan, they have not yet been allowed to fully participate in the formulation of decisions or in a problem-solving, cooperative relationship that seeks to provide fair and supportive working conditions for educators in Washington County. We still have hope that WCTA leaders and WCPS administrators will be able to work together seamlessly to address the needs of our students and staff. While that has not yet been the case, Carlos, Neil, and the WCTA Board of Directors are not stopping in their efforts. Next week, we will share more information with WCTA members regarding the distance learning survey, requests to negotiate, draft memorandums of understanding, and consider a wide variety of questions, suggestions, and proposals submitted to WCPS and the WCBOE.
We will not stop advocating for you and your students. We continue to advocate for fully funded budgets, too.
Be well. Stay safe.
Updated May 2, 2020 @ 10:00 AM
Has the last say of school for teachers been decided?
Not yet. The student's last day is June 10. Teacher last day remains TBD. Log your hours during the first two weeks of the closure to exemplify how much you worked. Log your hours over and above 8:00-3:30 and weekends to exemplify how much you currently work. Administration needs to know how much time you’ve dedicated to distance learning and the success of your students. (See last week’s Q and A below for more info.)
Is the Elected Board of Education or Dr. Michael's leadership team formally seeking teacher input/feedback into how Distance Learning is progressing?
Not currently. The next BOE Meeting is Tuesday, May 5, 2020. 6:00pm. Listen to it via this link via this link to stay informed about the Board’s decisions and comments. You can email the Board members if you have public comments about anything involving WCPS, including distance learning to the last day of school for staff.
Are staff at some elementary schools submitting Time Sheets for extra pay during the Covid-19 school closure?
WCTA has advocated for equitable opportunities for compensation during the closure for all staff. Some school principals, with WCPS guidance and approval, have utilized a variety of funding sources, including Title One funds, for teachers to submit time sheets, and there is an article in the current contract that provides for this planning time compensation for elementary teachers through the submission of timesheets. Opportunities vary from school to school. Contact your building principal directly about opportunities to submit time sheets.
When is open enrollment for insurance?
Open Enrollment is Active from May 1-May 19. All employees should review the open enrollment documents sent via WCPS email and/or mail. The new Flexible Spending Account (FSA) plan year is July 1-June 30. It’s time to enroll in medical or dependent flexible spending. Enroll directly with Flexible Benefit Administrators at https://fba.wealthcareportal.com/.
What is flexible spending?
With this benefit, you can contribute pre-tax money from your paycheck to use on approved medical expenses, such as a deductible or copay. With the dependent FSA, you can use pre-tax money to pay for approved daycare or summer camps for your child. Visit the Benefits Website for more information or helpful videos on flexible spending, http://wcpsmd.com/benefits/flexible-spending-accounts. To make changes to your benefit elections, log into Employee Self Service, and click on the Benefits tab. Click HERE for instructions on Employee Self Service. For assistance with logging in, call the help desk at 301-766-8911, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 24, 2020 @ 2:45 PM
When is the Last Day of School for teachers?
Students' last day is June 10, but teachers' last day remains TBD. Many have inquired about the school day waiver and how the first ten days of school closure are viewed. The first ten days of the closure were like snow days; pretend we had a March blizzard that closed schools. WCPS staff were compensated for the days, but not “working with students.” Four days (April 9, 10, 13, & 28) became student days, so, there are 6 days for consideration that are still part of the teacher contract for 190 days. WCTA and WCPS remain in communication to determine how many staff days will be made up (and how and when). Carlos and Neil are open to suggestions from members regarding ideas about making up/waiving staff days.
What about Benefits Open Enrollment and insurance options for WCPS employees?
WCPS Benefits will be contacting every employee regarding open enrollment next week. You will receive both email and USPS communication. WCTA will post links as they go live. None of the open enrollment procedures are motivated by the pandemic.
Where are we in the WCPS/BOCC Budget process?
Normally we are discussing budget advocacy and the county budget hearing this time of year. You can still advocate for a fully-funded WCPS budget, just from home. Even during challenging economic times, public schools remain open and require funding. Please share your thoughts about the value of funding public education by emailing the county commissioners.
Why is WCTA holding Rep Council and Building Meetings on Zoom?
WCTA leaders are meeting on Zoom in order to carry on the functions of our association, In May, we will need to hold our regular "annual meeting" to pass the budget and conduct other association business. In addition, Carlos and Neil want to touch base with WCTA members in school based groups in order to provide members with support and to hear about how distance learning is going for members and WCPS students and families. We are scheduling virtual building meetings, so watch your personal emails for invitations.
What are MSEA leaders providing in terms of support?
MSEA continues to advocate for members and for public education, and MSEA leaders are providing regular updates so that everyone can stay informed on the statewide issues that affect all public educators in the state of Maryland. Join MSEA on Wednesdays at 4 on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/marylandeducators/, and check out and share the latest episode at this link. In addition, MSEA has established marylandeducators.org/coronavirus as a hub for coronavirus-related resources for members. FAQs are updated as new information is available.
Updated April 17, 2020 @ 8:30 AM
Do we know when (or if) schools will resume "normal" operations?
The status of school closures remains TBD at the state level, which means local school systems cannot make decisions. Is an extended closure likely? Yes. Based on neighboring states and Maryland’s health experts, Covid-19 remains a risk to all residents of Maryland.
Did you complete the distance learning survey?
Here’s the link to the WCTA Distance Learning Survey for teachers. Carlos is compiling data, and we’ve begun sharing with CES administrators. We will share with building reps via virtual rep meetings starting next week. Carlos and will be scheduling virtual building meetings, too. Watch for invitations.
How can parents submit feedback to WCPS?
At present, WCPS has put out a link to this survey for parents to provide feedback about the WCPS Distance Learning website but not "distance learning" in a more general manner. WCTA is considering how to reach out to facilitate communication between teachers, parents, guardians, and school administrators to collect more feedback about how everyone is coping with this transition.
What about grading?
WCTA advises members to use their best professional judgment when grading student work. Some students have limited access to the internet and devices to complete assignments. Some parents may be unsure how to support their students during distance learning. Grading will evolve as the closure evolves. The state BOE’s lack of answers regarding the length of the closure and the status of 4th marking period has created a void that is being filled with conflicting messages from administrative personnel throughout the closure.
Bottom line: Continue to support your students and their families to the best of your abilities. Document your efforts. Contact administrators and school counselors if you are receiving little to no work from specific students. WCPS administrators and PPW’s are engaging families in discussions about distance learning. If using Google Voice to make calls, use your school address when you register the number/account.
The Covid-19 Closure has magnified the digital divide and opportunity gaps that exist for so many of our students. WCTA continues to advocate for our students and our learners when we meet with system leaders.
Stay positive. Stay well.
Updated April 10, 2020 @ 11:00 AM
Carlos has put together a Distance Learning Survey to collect feedback/input from members. If you have not yet completed the survey, please do so by clicking here.
As our first week of Distance Learning comes to a close, Passover winds down, and Easter nears, you are encouraged to find time for you and your families. Today, Friday, is a work day, but you may step back from engagement with students and supervisors. Real-time instruction and meetings are not required today, per discussions with WCPS leadership. Your professionalism is commendable, and our community is blessed by your commitment to education.
Be well, find balance, and enjoy family time this weekend.
Updated April 7, 2020 @12:25 PM
To quote our members, “To Zoom or not to Zoom?” and “To record or not to record?”
WCPS is one of few jurisdictions using live (synchronous) instruction via Zoom. Many counties in Maryland and other states are using other platforms such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams for meetings, classes, etc. Many are not requiring any “live” instruction. Carlos and Neil have reached out to WCPS to sign a Memorandum of Understanding covering distance learning and for clarification regarding reasons for the continued use of Zoom for synchronous instruction. Some school systems have banned the use of Zoom entirely to ensure students and staff are not victims of a variety of security breaches.
MSEA legal is finalizing a Distance Learning FAQ that addresses many of the questions that continue to surface. Monitor the MSEA Covid-19 information on the MSEA website.
In short, due to the security weaknesses associated with Zoom, WCTA and MSEA legal advise against recording any student (audio or video). Pre-recorded lessons that are posted on a variety of platforms are the best way to protect all parties.
As of Monday afternoon, WCPS has instructed staff to provide live instruction, and it would be considered insubordination to refuse to abide by WCPS directives. WCTA continues to work with WCPS to finalize language and policies surrounding live instruction and distance learning.
What should teachers do to meet IEP requirements for special education students?
WCTA has reached out to CES administration regarding meeting the needs of special education students on multiple occasions. Resolutions to the issues we have raised have not been identified. Carlos continues to reach out to administration.
Distance Learning Survey
Please complete the WCTA distance learning survey to give us your input/feedback by clicking here.
Stay positive. Stay well. There will be challenges to distance learning, and WCTA continues to work with WCPS to ensure students and staff maintain instruction while maintaining safety and security.
Updated April 4, 2020 @10:00 AM
This past week during our transition to the WCPS Distance Learning Plan, teachers and administrators, parents and students, have been working hard to understand the expectations, responsibilities, "school schedules," and more. We are learning new ways to use technology effectively to engage students in learning, when possible, and school administrators are reaching out to students without technology access to ensure they have equitable learning opportunities. This is an unprecedented change to "business as usual," and in the coming days, we will likely be able to find a "new normal" to take us through these coming weeks of school closure. That said, this is a stressful time for everyone. Breathe deeply. Be flexible. Stay well.
WCTA continues to advocate in the interest of everyone in our school community. To that end, here is an updated FAQ list from this past transition-to-distance-learning week.
What is WCTA’s stance on using the Zoom platform for distance learning?
We all know that there is not a perfect answer or a perfect platform for distance learning. WCTA has sought advice and input from building representatives, principals, and the membership at-large. WCTA has discussed security concerns, the FBI “warning”, and “Zoombombing” with WCPS. We are concerned with the ability of Zoom, Google, and our local internet providers to support the traffic distance learning will create.
This shift to Distance Learning is complicated, and while teachers and administrators worked through our week of transition with one set of expectations shared early on, the CES email regarding “Video Conferencing guidelines for teachers” sent on April 3 at approximately 5:20 PM set a different set of expectations before us.
WCTA and WCPS have not entered into any written agreement regarding recording or platforms used for distance learning. WCTA has supported teacher autonomy and the need for clear, consistent messaging and guidance from WCPS, not just during the distance learning rollout. During this transition, WCTA has sought guidance from MSEA and NEA regarding distance learning and protecting students and staff from any harm. The bottom line, legally, is that Maryland is a state that requires any recording to be announced. These are new times, and no one wants to intentionally break the law or put staff or students in jeopardy. WCTA has not recommended the Board’s recent “No Recording” stance, and we understand that the mixed messages regarding how to deliver instruction and classroom community via Zoom have been confusing throughout the past week. So, we are at a place where there are no easy answers. As an organization, therefore, we do not have an "official stance" on using the Zoom platform other than recommending that teachers follow the directions of their administrators and keep the lines of communication open. We are navigating these new waters with you all, and if we determine in the future to take a stance, it will be with input from our members, our reps, and our WCTA Board.
What about small group instruction, one-on-one teaching, or one-on-one office hours via the Zoom platform?
Regarding a WCTA stance on one-on-one and small group distance learning, this past week WCPS gave us the impression that there would not be one-on-one instruction. WCTA continues to advocate that meeting with students one-on-one in any environment is a delicate balance between confidentiality and meeting students’ needs. In the physical environment, teachers are told to leave classroom doors open and/or to tell a colleague that they are meeting one-on-one at school. In a distance learning setting, the “open door” is getting an adult in the household to agree to the meeting.
How can I teach from my home and guarantee no distractions will happen from my own pets and children during my scheduled class times online with students?
Make good decisions about your teaching environment and attire. At school, classroom instruction is interrupted regularly for many reasons. WCPS never mandated “zero distractions” in our schools - to do so would be impossible. Teachers live in homes with families and pets. We are living through a global pandemic, and our families and our health are at the top of our list of concerns. If something interrupts an online lesson, oh well. Dogs bark. Children cry. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Either way, every teacher is going to do the best job possible to meet the needs of students.
What are the expectations for our work?
Reasonable expectations are best for all involved. However, the definition of “what is reasonable” is still being determined. Some WCPS administrators think that distance learning will advance learning in new ways and are excited about the online possibilities for collaboration that this pandemic has spurred, others are concerned that students who are already behind the curve will get further behind and that they will not be able to keep up with the technology expectations or with virtual attendance at multiple meetings through the week. Some administrators expect teachers and principals to teach, to have office hours, to have CFIP, and team meetings because that will propel students and advance learning. Some administrators recognize that too many of our families are not prepared to support student learning and even those that can are focused on larger life issues. It’s a mixed bag and again, there are no easy answers. Use the first official week of distance learning to get to know your students again as you and they get used to new platforms and the Covid-19 learning environment. Some educators are comfortable and ready to go 100% digitally. OK. Others are not as comfortable. That’s OK, too. WCTA knows that we represent both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
What is WCTA doing to support members?
WCTA has shared nearly 100 member-asked or Association-asked questions/concerns/suggestions with WCPS leadership via email, tele-conference, and Zoom. Some questions have been answered, some have been tabled, and some have not been answered. Not yet included in that number are the many questions and concerns members sent in the last 24 hours to WCTA (overnnight between April 3 and April 4).
WCTA is advocating for you and your students. Distance learning is new for many educators, and its intense rollout is proving to be quite stressful for many. WCTA continues to share every question, concern, and suggestion with WCPS. Some issues have been resolved, and many are in process. WCTA has submitted a memorandum of understanding regarding distance learning to WCPS, and we are awaiting a response.
Carlos and Neil are working on scheduling Zoom meetings with reps and members, but we’ve postponed them until next week because we’ve been told that members were/are too stressed to have more meetings this week. We will reach out to you with options for attendance at these meetings when we finalize the dates and times.
What happens next?
WCTA continues to advocate for members and students. We will follow up with WCPS this weekend and through the coming weeks. Consider what’s important in life and work. After you read this FAQ, if you have suggestions, questions, concerns, feel free to contact Neil and Carlos. Also consider contacting your building administrators, your supervisors, Dr. April Bishop, and Dr. Peggy Pugh. They are spearheading distance learning at the CES level.
In closing, remember these priorities:
- Priority #1: The health (physical, mental, & emotional) of you, your family, and every family we serve.
- Priority #2: Support our students, in whatever way we can, to best meet their needs. Many of them miss us and their classmates as much as we miss them.
- Priority #3 (a distant 3rd): Know that becoming a distance learning expert / guru / god / goddess / rock star does not happen overnight. (You did not win the Tour de France the week after you learned to ride a bike, right?) Do your best with your time and talents, and life will go on.
Stay positive. Stay well.
Updated March 26, 2020 @3:30 PM
Thank you to all stakeholders who have supported one another during the Covid-19 closure. It takes a community effort to overcome any crisis, and our region is coming together.
We have prepared this list of FAQs to walk us through the coming days:
What happens next?
Superintendent Salmon’s announcement to keep schools closed through April 24 now gives WCPS the room to move forward with learning plans for employees, students, and families. There will be a variety of growing pains during the roll-out of the plan, and we encourage everyone to be patient. WCTA, WCESP, and WCPS will address any and all issues related to the WCPS Distance Learning Plan. The Associations are committed to meeting the needs of employees and students; every question, suggestion, and concern that has been sent to me and Carlos has been forwarded to WCPS administration.
What is the WCPS Distance Learning Plan?
With input from various statekholders and guidance from MSDE, WCPS has created a document called the WCPS Distance Learning Plan to guide our work in the coming weeks. As the plan is unveiled and dissected, it is incumbent upon every employee to share your thoughts and concerns. Start at the school level by discussing the distance learning plan with your colleagues, department leaders, team leaders, and LT’s. Brainstorm. Take your suggestions or questions to your building administrator(s). The best distance learning plan is the plan that meets the needs of YOUR students and YOUR school community. All subjects are incorporated, and cross-curricular activities could bloom during distance learning. The county plan is a foundation that you and your colleagues will utilize to meet the needs of your students. If, as a school team, you cannot resolve the issues the county plan presents, then contact your supervisor(s), CES administration, and WCTA.
How will we implement the plan?
As distance learning begins, I cannot emphasize enough the need for all parties to be patient, thoughtful, and collaborative. WCPS will provide broad trainings and one-on-one supports via LT’s, Mentors, Admin, and IT. When Zooming, always keep in mind what and who is in the background, your attire, and, as always, your audience. NEA and MSEA have resources on their websites. There are mounds of articles online reminding users of security measures, surveillance, etc.
What about compensation during the extended closure?
Regarding compensation: WCTA and WCESP advocated for all employees to receive compensation and benefits throughout the closure. The recent WCPS S’more outlines the compensation plan for employees. Member advocacy has continued locally, at the state level, and federally, as legislators worked on legislation to support the Nation during this crisis. NEA advocated for a variety of measures to support students, families, workers, student loan debt, and more.
How will this all play out of the next four weeks and beyond?
As educators, our work is never finished, and this telework/distance learning/e-learning/virtual learning hurdle is another one of the many challenges educators will overcome to ensure our students achieve at the highest level.
Dial in for the MSEA townhall. Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 8Pm for the MSEA TeleTownHall. 410-968-6079. President Cheryl Bost, MSEA Chief legal counsel Kristy Anderson, and Johns Hopkins University Vice Dean, Dr. Sharfstein will be hosting the event.
Monitor the WCTA FB Page and Website for updates.
Feeling Well and Want to Help During the Crisis?
Visit this site for a variety of volunteer opportunities to help Marylanders during the Covid-19 crisis.
Stay positive, stay well, and stay distanced for the good of humanity. We are educators, and we’ll overcome this!
Updated March 25, 2020 @11:55 AM
Today, the state superintendent announced that schools will remain closed for an additional four weeks. While that news is devastating for educators, students, and families, it is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. Tune in to the MSEA town hall Thursday at 8pm. WCTA and Washington County Educational Support Personnel, INC - WCESP will continue to advocate for our students and our members. Now that the state has taken such action regarding public schools, WCPS will be able to move forward with distance learning options. WCTA and WCESP are hopeful that the plan will be collaboratively developed utilizing in-house experts. Stay well. Stay positive. And for the good of all, stay distanced. Monitor the WCTA website and FB page for updates as they develop.
Updated March 23, 2020 @7:40 PM
Earlier today, Governor Hogan ordered a shut-down of all non-essential businesses in the state of Maryland. Actions such as Governor Hogan’s are unprecedented, but our nation (and the world) has not faced a virus as intense and transmissive as Covid-19 since the flu pandemic that hit the world 100 years ago.
How the extended shut-down specifically impacts public schools and WCTA members remains to be seen. WCTA leaders continue to be in contact with WCPS leaders, and we hope to provide more information to our members soon.
The Maryland State Board of Education is holding a meeting on Tuesday. MSEA is working with MSDE and the state board to address issues related to virtual learning, such as access to devices and internet, equity, special education students, and more.
WCTA does have language in the Negotiated Agreement broadly addressing distance learning. The health and safety of all students and employees should be the number one priority for school systems.
MSEA is also working to address questions and concerns related to testing, budgets, student teachers, internships, etc. The ripples of the Covid-19 closure go far and wide.
Save Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 8Pm for the MSEA TeleTownHall. Watch social media, text, and email for invitations. MSEA president Cheryl Bost, MSEA Chief legal counsel Kristy Anderson, and Johns Hopkins University Vice Dean, Dr. Sharfstein will be hosting the event.
We will continue to update this page as information rolls out from MSEA, MSDE, and WCPS.
Most importantly, stay home and remain socially distant to stop the spread of Covid-19. We all have parts to play during this pandemic. Your minor cough or sniffle could be fatal to our parents, grandparents, and those fighting a variety of health issues.
Monitor the WCTA FB Page and this web page for updates. Tag MSEA and WCTA if you have uplifting images of staff parades, etc.
Stay positive, stay well, and stay distanced for the good of humanity.
FAQ 2: Posted March 23, 2020 @ 8:40 AM
On Friday, March 20, some WCPS principals began reaching out to staff via Zoom meetings to begin conversations about what the next steps for WCPS might look like in the coming weeks. In terms of content of these voluntary meetings, most principals shared similar information from CES. Here is a second FAQ set to summarize the major points:
Will teachers be paid for this initial 2 week closure?
Yes. Since WCPS doesn't know if these ten days will be waived by the state (and therefore whether they do or do not count towards the 180-day student school year), the general stance is a holding pattern until we know what MSDE will determine regarding make-up days. Dr. Pugh has approved a few additional hours over the two-week closure for AP and IB teachers who are continuing new instruction and who supply her with a log of their ongoing work and time.
Are teachers supposed to be doing anything specific during these two weeks?
Aside from AP/IB classes throughout the county, teachers are directed to provide no new instruction during the two-week closure. Students should only be working on past instruction and learning. This is a great time for students who are behind to catch up or for students to work through review or enrichment activities that teachers provided on Friday, March 13, via packets or Google classroom assignments. Teachers, parents/guardians, and students can be in contact with one another via WCPS approved platforms.
Teachers can also voluntarily participate in school and department meetings to stay in contact with one another and to begin to plan together what their next steps might be.
What will the new "online school days" look like if we transition to virtual learning next week?
CES is working on plans to transition to online learning in the event we are not able to return to school on March 30. CES will take the lead on sharing these plans with teachers, parents, guardians, and students when they are available. The challenge is, of course, that each school's needs will vary, depending on the ages and needs of the students and the access to technology available. Google Classroom is an already approved and in use platform for online learning. Zoom is the approved WCPS tool for 'synchronous interaction' with students. WCPS will provide a list of all approved instructional delivery tools for online learning in the event that we are not able to return to school on March 30.
Stay well. Stay positive. Stay distanced. The health of every member of our community relies on distance and stemming the spread. An extended shutdown is a reality to protect every American.
FAQ 1: Posted March 19, 2020 @4:30 PM
Information from MSDE and WCPS continues to roll-out, but the information is limited. Without additional information, anxiety surrounding the current 2 week school closure is understandable. Neil and Carlos have been fielding countless calls, texts, and emails from concerned Association members, retirees, and community members. While they, like you, want to know the answers to many questions, the information from WCPS and MSDE leadership is constricted by the emergent nature of the state's response to the changing Covid-19 situation.
When will the school closure end?
The scheduled return to work date is March 30, but that may be unlikely. CDC recommendations to limit gatherings is likely to extend well beyond March 30.
If schools remain closed, will instruction continue online? If so, how?
According to Dr. Michael’s video, WCPS is preparing online lessons and paper packets to continue instruction. Exactly who is creating the units and lessons is unknown to WCTA. We continue to request clarification. At this time, since schools are “closed for business,” WCTA cannot answer how instruction will take place and how packets will be delivered to families without sufficient internet access.
If schools remain closed, will salaries continue to be paid?
Neil received this message from a WCPS administrator: “Teachers will still receive their 26 pays as usual.” If teachers are expected to conduct any online instruction, assessment, etc., compensation is to be expected. At this time, Neil is hopeful that the information he received from CES is accurate.
Am I really expected to cease all communication with students and their families?
NO! Neil encourages educators to maintain lines of communication with their students and their families. Do so utilizing WCPS approved platforms and devices. Avoid use of personal social media accounts and texting from personal cell phones to communicate with students and families. Your students rely on you for support and feedback, and you should feel comfortable assisting and encouraging students via school FB pages, Dojo, Synergy email, etc.
May I produce videos or PowerPoints that I can share via WCPS platforms for students to utilize while we are closed?
Yes, but employees are NOT mandated to create online lessons, videos, etc., at this time. As educators, we don’t want to see our students lose any progress on skills developed. Educators may voluntarily share information helpful to students as long as the activities comply with WCPS policies, curriculum, etc.
While schools are closed for business, can I badge in to get materials from my classroom?
Not without consulting your building principal and receiving explicit permission to enter the building. Closed means closed. The only way schools remain free of the virus is by keeping them empty of ALL personnel.
Will ESSENCE teachers have the opportunity to continue instruction prior to the March 30 date as AP and IB teachers have?
That is unknown at this time. Consult your supervisor and HCC points of contact for guidance regarding how HCC will proceed with instruction.
Will state and national testing resume as scheduled when schools reopen?
That is another question left unanswered by MSDE. With school closings affecting students nationally, testing windows, especially for national exams such as IB and AP remain a hot topic. A definitive answer will not be known until the status of reopening schools is determined.
Will IEP and DIEP meetings take place while schools are closed?
While schools are closed for business, no, IEP and DIEP meetings cannot take place.
Questions for which WCTA does not have answers as of March 19, 2020:
- Will we make up days?
- Will schools remain closed for the rest of the year?
- How will the closure impact the observation and certification process?
- Will graduations, award ceremonies, spring productions, etc., take place?
- Will our ESPs be compensated while schools are closed?
- When will employees be allowed to return to buildings for belongings and resources?
- How will counselors and administrators complete next year’s schedules during an extended closure?
- Can APEX replace traditional instruction for students with WCPS devices?
- What if a family does not have reliable internet?
WCTA and MSEA continue to monitor information locally, at the state level, and nationally. Neil and Carlos are available via email, and Carlos has an MSEA-issued cell phone if you need to reach us.
Carlos: email@example.com / 443-766-0450
Contact either of them as needed during the closure, but remember that the information they have is limited. Please know that WCTA leaders continue to reach out for information and clarification, but in many cases, WCPS is handcuffed by a lack of direction from MSDE. WCTA is hopeful that the information from both MSDE and WCPS will make things clearer for staff and students rather than cloudier.
Monitor the WCTA FB Page and website for updates.
Most importantly during the closure, heed all CDC guidelines. Limit face-to-face interaction, especially large groups. Check in on your elderly and health-compromised neighbors and friends.
Stay positive. Facetime and call your friends and family. Have virtual get-togethers.
Together, we will endure and successfully overcome the challenges Covid-19 presents.