Is Wicomico County Public Schools Justified in Closing Our Schools?
The Wicomico County Board of Education (WCBOE) decided to close the schools and provide virtual learning for at least half of the school year. Prior to their decision, they offered a registration survey to see what parents though. However, their survey was skewed to support a desired outcome right out of the gate. On the first introduction page prior to taking the survey, parents were presented with three models. Distance Learning (Home Learning), Hybrid (School/Home Learning), and Traditional Learning (Open Schools).
When you entered the survey, you were only allowed to select one of two instructional models: Red Model: Distance Learning or Yellow Model: Hybrid of School/Home Learning. An instructional model for the Green Model:Traditional Learning was not presented as an option (see below).
On July 28, 2020 the Superintendent presented her recommendation and the Board members unanimously approved a plan for full virtual learning for the first semester (Marking Periods 1 & 2 from September 8, 2020 - January 29, 2021). The school system never published the results of their survey. Parents find this very interesting. What metrics did WCBOE use to reach their conclusion? That’s a really good question. So, we decided to launch an independent survey to poll parents as to what they really thought.
The Results Based on a Sample size of 1,082 surveys
Open the School 29.63%
Hybrid – Virtual Distant Learning & Part Time In-Class 18.42%
Keep School Closed – Virtual Distant Learning 51.95%
Open the School 51.10%
Hybrid – Virtual Distant Learning & Part Time In-Class 13.19%
Keep School Closed – Virtual Distant Learning 35.71%
Open the School 19.18%
Hybrid – Virtual Distant Learning & Part Time In-Class 16.29%
Keep School Closed – Virtual Distant Learning 64.53%
Average Across All Groups
Open the School 33.30%
Hybrid – Virtual Distant Learning & Part Time In-Class 15.97%
Keep School Closed – Virtual Distant Learning 50.73%
*Only 5 people answered as “other” so they were counted with parents.
Regardless of your personal choice above, what if the school opened for those parents that want their child to be in class, and provided virtual learning for those parents who want their child to remain home? Do you support a parent’s right to choose what’s best for them?
YES - 80.95%
NO - 19.05%
If you combine the count of Traditional (open schools) with those who chose Hybrid, you can see that nearly 50% of those surveyed favored opening the schools at some capacity. As a result, the citizens of Wicomico County are closely divided with a nearly 50-50 split.
What is really interesting is the difference of [parents & parent/teachers] compared to teachers that have no child in the school system. You can see that there is a noticeable difference. This tells us that the teachers who do not have an interest of a child in the school system could be influenced by some external factor(s). This influence can be political, the teacher’s union, or personal desire to just remain home.
Aside from any safety concerns, the WCBOE’s decision appears to be baseless upon the data that they have failed to provide. Perhaps they just didn't ask the right questions on their survey. The outcome of their decision to close schools may be due to fear of liability, political motivation, or they assume that they can cease the moment of COVID-19 to retain unused school funding for a rainy day (since overhead is greatly reduced). Regardless of their decision or motivation, they have dismissed the public’s opinion, removed the right of choice, and forced an outcome. What we do know is that the CDC recommends opening schools and our independent survey statistical data supports the same if people’s right of choice truly matters. Of those surveyed, 80.95% supported a parent's right to choose, regardless of their own personal opinion.
With all things considered, our recommendation is that the school system opens the schools M-F for traditional operation while observing the practical safety practices of social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and using sanitation methods/systems such as the Protexus Sanitation System as previously indicated by WCBOE. For those parents who want their child to return to school for in-class instruction can return. For those parents who desire for their child to remain home, they can work virtually. Knowing that the county is divided, those who do return would in fact have a class size nearly half of what it would be under normal circumstances. This factor makes social distancing less of a challenge in and of itself, including a bus population at half capacity.
How can this be achieved?
1. Each class can have a webcam and audio feed so that remote students can join their class in real-time using Zoom.
2. Another method is for teachers who do not want to return can be assigned to instruct students that remain at home. The teachers that want to return to school can instruct those students that return to school for in-class instruction.
WCBOE is receiving $265 million dollars for the 2020-2021 school year. For this amount, they have budgeted and planned for standard operation. They also received $4,838,479 in aide under the CARES Act for distant learning expenses associated with COVID-19 (technology, internet connectivity, professional development, literacy, materials/resources, and PPE for students and staff). Additional aide is also received for Free and Reduced Meal students, limited English proficient students, special education students, and students who ride the bus. However, with schools closed for half a year, overhead will be greatly reduced by millions of dollars. Students will not be transported, all programs and extracurricular activities are cancelled, and school buildings are closed. Meanwhile, staff remain on the payroll whether they will be carrying out a job function or not.
WCBOE has a responsibility to return a good portion (millions of dollars) of funding back to their original funding sources (Federal/State/County) for the 2020-2021 school year. Using COVID-19 is not an excuse to keep money that is not used for the purpose for which it was originally issued (in accordance to the school budget). In addition, there will be some parents that withdraw their child from the public school system to opt for homeschool or private school. According to the 2020-2021 Budget, WCBOE receives nearly $17,274 per pupil (for 2020-2021) from combined Federal, State, County, and other funding sources. Their funding is solely based upon the total number of students in the school system. Therefore, we want to make sure that WCBOE does not receive financial funding for any student that has transitioned and no longer in the public school system. We will be watching this closely and expect WCBOE to be ethically responsible by returning such funds. We hope that the Wicomico County Council ensures the same.
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August 3, 2020 Copyright DelmarvaPTC.org 2020