Wicomico County Board of Education Has Left Our Children Behind
With Wicomico County lagging behind other counties in Maryland who have opened their schools for full-time, in-person operation, the Wicomico County Board of Education continues to hold the line by refusing to open full-time for in-person attendance. As time passes, this is creating an even deeper hole and a larger gap in the learning loss of students throughout Wicomico County. Meanwhile, private institutions have been open since the beginning of the school year, and have managed to do so safe and effectively. Our elected board members and WCPS administration are collectively destroying our students and leaving them behind.
Academic performance has tanked
Before COVID-19 existed, Wicomico County Public Schools performed at 50% of what it should. With COVID-19 in the mix, this has exacerbated matters to make what was already really bad to even worse. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has forced us to do things differently as a society. However, COVID-19 cannot be blamed for the board not making sound decisions or working with citizens to come up with a solution. Instead, the Wicomico County Board of Education has made decisions that are not in the best interest, safety, health, and respect of its citizens. As a result, unnecessary obstacles have been created by the WCBOE, and they are actually depriving students of receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). A Free Appropriate Public Education must be available to ALL children residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school, as defined in Section §300.530(d) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act . Once again, WCBOE has redefined the word "Appropriate" as they do with educational materials and curriculum, to make what is deemed inappropriate to be appropriate by their own unit of measure.
The following was listed in the WCBOE 2020-2021 Recovery Plan:
“The Recovery Plan was developed and will be implemented with the goal of ensuring there are no obstacles to accessing educational opportunities while providing every student equitable access to educational rigor, resources, and support to maximize academic success and social and emotional well-being.” FAILED
“For the first semester of 2020-2021, a full virtual learning model will be delivered
through enhanced distance learning practices. Engagement of all students in well planned
and robust virtual learning greatly reduces the risk of sudden changes to
students’ instructional program that would likely occur during COVID-19.” FAILED
“DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENTS: The Office of Assessment and Accountability has developed a comprehensive assessment program through collaboration with content area supervisors to
determine and address students’ current performance levels and any learning gaps
that may have occurred through the unanticipated closing of schools in the spring of
2020. Understanding the need to determine a baseline for student performance in
our core K-12 content areas, a plan has been created to assess students using online
testing platforms for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. Formative local
assessments that are aligned to state standards will be used in the areas of Science
and Social Studies to determine students’ present performance levels.” NEVER CONDUCTED
To date, academic performance has suffered greatly. WCPS administration admits that learning loss is so significant, that it has resulted in our students being 2-years behind academically. At the February 9, 2021 board meeting, the decline of the school GPA was presented and the concern was addressed in the public comments section in this video. In the board’s 2020-2021 Recovery Plan, assurance was made that the virtual learning environment would provide equitable access to educational rigor, resources, and support to maximize academic success and social and emotional well-being. This has resulted in an utter failure.
After expressing our concern at the beginning of the school year, it was assured that content would not be reduced when the board decided to go to semesters. At the end of the semester, it is now known that content was in fact reduced, and recorded grades inaccurately reflect each child's academic ability. In addition, we have confirmed that school system never administered Diagnostic Assessments to discover current performance levels and learning gaps of our students as defined in the Recovery Plan. When the school system was addressed regarding this matter, the school system tried to pass off progressive school activity of formative and summative assignments, quizzes, and tests in the Follett Aspen X2 portal as being their assessments. This is clearly not a Diagnostic Assessment to discover current performance levels that would identify learning gaps in order to measure baseline performance in their core subjects. This was a failed attempt to deflect and save face, as they never delivered what was promised.
As a result of WCBOE's negligence to do their part, the Delmarva Parent Teacher Coalition is carrying out independent educational assessments to measure proficiency in core subjects. We are discovering that actual grades and the average GPA are much lower than reported by the WCBOE in its February 9, 2021 board meeting. Students were only taught half of the material, for which they would have otherwise learned over the entire school year in their core subjects. COVID-19 is not a mask for board and administrative incompetence. One positive thing that COVID-19 has created is a transparency that the WCBOE and its administration can no longer elude.
Declining enrollment, lack of participation, and missing students
In an interview on February 24, 2021 (13:00 min mark), Superintendent Donna Hanlin of Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) admitted that approximately 600+ students have dropped out of the county's public school system because their parents have opted their child to be homeschooled or to attend a private institution. That loss accounts for 4% of the entire WCPS student population.
In addition, what was not mentioned are the students that have not shown up for online or hybrid instruction. These would account for the students that are unable to participate in school, do not consistently attend class, consistently tardy, or lost interest in school altogether. Their whereabouts are unknown by school officials. Nationally, the number of students that have fallen off the grid is astounding. Across the United States, there are about 56.4 million students that attend public school (source). In a study conducted by an educational data analyst firm, Bellwether Education Partners reports that "Approximately 3 million of the most educationally marginalized students in the country, March might have been the last time they experienced any formal education — virtual or in-person." (source) That's 5.3% of the over-all student population that attend public school. This number does not account for those who are not classified as marginalized, who have also impacted the decline in student participation.
The high school dropout rate is also unknown. During the pandemic, it has created a stress of families in order to make ends meet. Some have entered the workforce in lieu of attending school. This is heart-wrenching, but a reality. This figure would primarily apply to Juniors and Seniors age 16+. We estimate that this could account for about half a percent (+/-) of the student loss.
Our kids are depressed and regressing in their development
Mental health is a huge concern with what virtual learning has consequently brought fourth. Students are depressed and they are regressing. The effects of staring at a screen all day, social isolation, and a disconnect from reality has damaged K-12 education for years to come. Many WCPS students are depressed and some have contemplated if not on the brink of suicide. There are many reports of students staying in bed with their computers, staying in their pajamas, lethargic, and appear to be zombie-like. Many are unmotivated to do normal daily tasks. A student created a video called "Numb" which demonstrates how mentally tolling virtual learning is to a student:
According to the National Institution of Mental Health statistics, students age 13-18 are ten times more likely to die of suicide than from COVID-19 (source). Child abuse is at a record-high in Wicomico. Drug and alcohol use by unsupervised youth have increased, and also affected is the crime rate. All of these facts cannot be ignored, and mental health services and counseling is secondary to the real solution of opening our schools for full-time, in-person instruction.
Guaranteed school funding partly to blame
In order to protect the operation of schools, Governor Hogan has signed an emergency order to compensate school systems for their decline in their enrollment numbers. Because school systems receive school-year funding based on the total number of students that are enrolled, the school would lose millions of dollars with such a decline in enrollment. Due to the Governor's order, this means that the county will receive the same amount of funding based on the prior year's enrollment number. The problem is, this is only a short-term patch and the amount of returning students is unknown. This will impact funding for the 2022-2023 school year for sure. The funding is bittersweet. School infrastructure is preserved, but also allows the school system to continue its abuses without any consequence of their actions, which primarily attributed to the decline in school enrollment in the first place. Not everything can be blamed on the pandemic, which WCBOE tries so hard to hide and spin the reality of their poor management choices to date. To them, what you see is what you get. The ultimate solution is to remove the school monopoly and to give parents vouchers for school choice.
The teacher's union is interfering
The Maryland Education Association (MEA) and the Wicomico Education Association (WCEA) has encouraged its members to stay home with the play and exaggeration of dramatized safety factors. Although there are both union members and non-union members that genuinely want to return to the classroom, we have gathered that approximately 50% the union members rather stay home and work from the comfort of their home. As a result, the WCEA has organized a silent strike. In the State of Maryland, it is illegal to for unions to organize a strike. In addition, the union has bullied and pressured the WCBOE members into making poor choices. WCBOE has allowed the the union to be put ahead of our students. Our schools exist for the sole purpose of our students, not for their members. As we suggested before, teachers that want to stay home can teach students whose parents want their child to stay home. For the teachers that choose to return, they should teach those students who want to return. There is no reason why everyone cannot be accommodated in their personal needs for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.
Discriminatory attendance practices
WCBOE has allowed some students to attend school for in-person instruction for four days per week, while others had the option of attending only 2 days for a hybrid learning model. In the interview with Superintendent Donna Hanlin (25:40 min mark) she stated that some students were offered to attend 4 days per week. We have discovered that students of Special Education, English Language Learners, Children of Teachers, and Vulnerable Populations were among some of the students that were offered to attend 4 days per week, while others who are not in these categories could only attend 2 days per week. The fact is, all students are vulnerable, and all students have special needs at this time. WCBOE has separated students like cattle. They have identified and decided that some students are more important than others, and used (dis)ability, age, race, socioeconomic status, poverty, ethnicity, language, employee perks, and family structure as criteria to their unofficial deciding factors. This is textbook discrimination, and they are violating several federal and state laws with their partiality and preference. When the terms equality, equity, and inclusion are so commonly used in the school system, this is a perfect example of hypocrisy, as the school system is demonstrating inequality, inequity, and exclusion in the school system. WCBOE is in serious trouble.
NOTICE OF NONDISCRIMINATION: "Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) prohibits illegal discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, immigration status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, family/parental status, marital status, age, physical or mental disability, poverty and socioeconomic status, language, or other legally or constitutionally protected attributes or affiliations and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated Title 36 youth groups. Discrimination undermines our community’s long-standing efforts to create, foster, and promote equity, inclusion, and acceptance for all."
Educational Equity Policy INS-SCH-PL-038: "It is the policy of the Wicomico County Board of Education to ensure each student the opportunity for success in our school system regardless of a student’s ability (cognitive, social/emotional and physical), gender, ethnicity, family structure, gender identity and expression, language, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and socio-economics. This policy establishes that each school will provide every student equitable access, resources, and support for the educational rigor that is designed to maximize the student’s academic success and social/emotional wellbeing."
Why are parents pulling their children from WCPS?
In a poll of 500 parents, the general consensus included those who are fed up with the school system due to the lack of transparency, political indoctrination, faculty is not truthful with parents, difficult to acquire their child's homework, failure of the board to regulate their policies, discrimination, double standards, wokeness, fear of retribution, obstruction to appropriate educational access, closure of schools, virtual learning inadequacies, and expressed that their concerns are always disregarded and deflected by school officials. This has created an erosive lack of trust, and parents who have made decisions to pull their children out of Wicomico County Public Schools will most likely be a permanent move for the majority, and a small percentage may actually return. It is unfortunate, because all the school has to do is the right thing. No school is perfect, and there will always be flaws and issues to work through in order to improve the school system. It's not about the school making mistakes, but how things are handled. During the poll, one parent stated: "WCPS wastes more time, effort, and tax payer resources to protect their unethical conduct, incompetence, and lies instead of upholding existing policies, absolutes, integrity, and truth. It's such a shame."
In conclusion, with the combined chaos of the pandemic, lack of student data, and poor decisions made by school officials, it's difficult to truly determine the extent of the damage. With the national data and what is occurring locally, we can estimate the decline in student participation to be approximately 10%(+/-) and growing. If they do not get a handle on this, we project that enrollment numbers will decline by as much as 20% come the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. What we do know is that the damage is continually being advanced. If the WCBOE members don't know what to do, then they need to check their ego at the door, step aside, and resign. We have professional people lined up that know exactly what to do, and guaranteed to do it much better. Please contact the board members below and ask them to open our schools immediately for full-time, in-person attendance. If they refuse, then demand their resignation if you disapprove of their continual misconduct. We need strong leaders for our schools, and it's clear that their weakness and incompetence has been well-demonstrated. We can't wait until the next election to vote for new board members or there will be nothing left of our schools.
WCBOE Board Members
Donald Fitzgerald - firstname.lastname@example.org
Gene Malone - email@example.com
Allen Brown - firstname.lastname@example.org
John Palmer - email@example.com
Tonya Lewis - firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Murray - email@example.com
Ann Suthowski - firstname.lastname@example.org
Fellows & Editors
March 3, 2021 Copyright DelmarvaPTC.org