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.
May 28, 2021
During the last quarter of the school year, WCTA leaders helped to navigate a number of issues and questions for teachers - some related to teaching during the pandemic and some related to ongoing working conditions that represent our common concerns. WCTA members received regular updates in emails. These included efforts at lobbying the local county commissioners to provide necessary funds for public education, information about state education issues, and more. As we return to an anticipated "normal school year" for 2021-2022, this "Return to Learn" page will be archived on the site as we do not anticipate the need to provide these open updates to non-WCTA members on the WCTA website. If you are not currently a member of WCTA but have appreciated the advocacy and information WCTA has provided to you this year, we hope that you will join the association and become an active part of our efforts to improve working conditions and support for public education in our county.
For information about the conclusion of negotiations and the resulting need for WCTA members to ratify the agreement, please see the news release and links posted on our homepage.
March 1, 2021
Work-Life Balance = Physical & Mental Health
Last week, Neil Becker wrote to WCTA members about the access WCPS has to your devices, whether personally-owned or WCPS-owned, when you are signed in with WCPS credentials. I received many inquiries for clarification and comments about how such knowledge “forces” educators to step back from working late into the night at home, on weekends at home, and during holidays at home. Good. Step back.
As of March 1, we learned that WCPS is extending the student day, set to begin on March 15. This change maintains the "Stage 4" student attendance in multiple groups for "concurrent" teaching and eliminates the (collaborative) planning time so many educators have been utilizing for planning, grading, and countless other duties. WCTA has advocated for more teacher time for decades, and flatly said that this is about more than money and that offering after hours compensation does not buy good health and well-being.
On that note, your employer and the Washington County Board of Education must understand how much time educators are donating to WCPS. Complete a timecard like this one and submit it to WCTA on Fridays for the next few weeks. WCTA will then present the hours worked to the WCBOE.
February 24, 2021
Privacy and Technology: Use Work Devices for Work. Period. Full Stop.
Virtual learning has created new layers of internet security, protocols, and privacy for educators and school systems. WCTA has been in communication with MSEA legal and WCPS leadership regarding use of technology and privacy of the user. For years, WCTA has reminded members via many channels to use WCPS devices for work and personal devices for personal business. Out of convenience, many mix the two. DO NOT mix the two. New software and extensions permit WCPS to access your devices, even your personal devices, wen you are logged in to a WCPS server from ANY location.
See below from WCPS leadership:
The WCPS technology department provides all of the necessary technology for staff and students to teach and learn. These devices are monitored and protected on multiple fronts to ensure the security and safety of not only the WCPS network, but the users' data.
There can be no expectation of privacy when using any Washington County Public Schools (WCPS) device, network, or domain ID (WCPS user name and password). The technology department has access to all of the information transmitted using the device, network, or account credentials. All information is legally discoverable.
All activities connected with an employee’s WCPS ID are not private in nature. At any time, they can and will be audited. The device that the ID is used on does not negate this access. Signing into a browser with WCPS credentials on any device allows the activity to be discoverable. If an employee is using WCPS accounts on a personal device, that personal device can be pulled by court mandate for investigative purposes as well. WCPS discourages the use of personal technology equipment for work at work.
From a security perspective the use of personal devices on school grounds is very risky for several reasons. WCPS does not actively monitor those personal devices. While the digital traffic produced can be seen, it is unknown who is actually using the device. There is no way of ensuring that device has end-point security and updated patches for Chrome, iOS, etc. like WCPS devices require. A personal device can bring malicious content that spreads. This also interferes with investigative issues. If an employee brings a personal device in and something illegal or malicious happens, WCPS has no way of interacting with that device to resolve issues. These are just a number of reasons that connecting personal devices to the WCPS network leaves the network and the users’ data vulnerable.
WCBOE Policies and Regulations
IIBH-R Acceptable Use of Telecommunication for all users
JICJ Use of Personally-Owned, Electronic Devices for students
From paragraph two: “There can be no expectation of privacy…”
*From Carlos and MSEA legal: Never use a personal device for WCPS business if you do not want WCPS to have access to your personal device, browsing history, or any other data on your personal device. Do not sign into WCPS networks using personal devices. While WCPS scanning your browsing history feels like an invasion of privacy, if you are logged in to anything (Outlook, Google, etc.) with your WCPS credentials, you open the door for WCPS to access your device.
February 9, 2021
Code V: Virtual Telework for Snow Days/Inclement Weather Issues
While inclement weather is in the forecast, don’t doubt your commitment to students or question how you will get through the next few days. Educators have successfully executed the frequently evolving WCPS distance learning plan. Don’t stress over what is out of our control. You have done wonders for your students since March. In advance of the snow, take home a device, do the best of your ability, and know your students are blessed to have you in their lives. If WCPS does not call a snow day, work from home to the best of your ability. Teachers did not make this mess, but you have exemplified grace, professionalism, and dedication throughout the pandemic. You’ve got this!
2/16 Return to Learn & Self-Directed Planning Time
The newest version of the return to learn plan comes with new student schedules beginning on February 16th. These constants remain: 7.5 hour duty day, 30 minute duty-free lunch, and a minimum of 250 minutes of self-directed planning in blocks of at least 30 minutes during the student day. If students are dropped off at your school before your duty day, you are not required to supervise students prior to the start of your duty day. If afternoon meetings and PD are scheduled beyond your duty day, you are not mandated to attend after your 7.5 hour day. If your schedule violates the negotiated agreement, notify your administrator/supervisor that activities or duties have been scheduled beyond the duty day and suggest modifications. If the issues are not remedied, contact Carlos email@example.com.
Safety Protocols: Reminders
All WCPS safety protocols remain in place for students and staff. Six feet of spacing is still being practiced. Masks are mandatory. If students refuse to mask in the classroom or hallways, document that with your building administration. If not resolved, contact Carlos. Staff: please follow all protocols so that you do not put yourselves at risk of disciplinary action.
*Don’t forget to submit timesheets for the hours you commit(ed) to preparing for the restart of in-person learning.
January 26, 2021
Is COVID Leave Still Available?
The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) expired in December. Employees are encouraged to contact WCPS HR via phone (301-766-2807, Regina Keller or Terri Baker) to confirm how WCPS will handle COVID leave since employees are scheduled to return to in-person instruction prior to reaching maximum immunity from the vaccinations. Even after being vaccinated, employees can still be carriers, and CDC recommends that all close contact quarantine. Employees may be vaccinated, but students and family members will not be vaccinated prior to in-person instruction.
*WCPS has denied the WCTA proposal to memorialize COVID leave as the County Commissioners did earlier this month.
Reopening in February
WCTA is submitting several proposals, some have been submitted multiple times, to WCPS leadership in anticipation of the WCPS Return to Learn on February 16, 2021.
January 22, 2021
WCPS Extends Return to Learn Date; WCTA Continues to Advocate for Safe Return to Schools
This week, much has been in the news regarding the pandemic and schools, including an extension of the Return to Learn target date for WCPS to February 16 for Stage 4 as well as new statements and expectations from Governor Larry Hogan provided during his press conference on Thursday, January 21. In addition, WCPS is now able to to offer vaccinations to teachers and is currently scheduling them, beginning on Monday, January 25.
WCTA has been advocating for safe reopening proposals since we closed in March of 2020. Many of our suggestions and offers to collaborate were ignored and disregarded. It has taken several months to open regular channels between WCTA and WCPS. The new "100 Day Roadmap" task force is focusing on recovering and accelerating throughout the spring, summer, and fall, not on opening in February or by a March 1 deadline.
As MSEA president Cheryl Bost noted in her response, "There's nobody who wants to go back to school more than our educators and work with our students, but we have to do that in a healthy and safe environment...Threats are never a good option. We don't do that with our students and we have been working, our educators have been working so hard. And those threats...are very demoralizing in a state where we take pride in our public schools and our public educators."
No educator deserves to be threatened by Governor Hogan. After citing cities and states who are cutting off pay, rescinding teaching licenses, or offering vaccinations only for school systems offering in-person learning, he proceeded to threaten educators and the school systems who employ them. His words, “We do not want to take such actions in Maryland… We will explore every legal avenue at our disposal” are threats. He is intimidating educators, local school boards, and school system leaders.
WCTA continues to advocate for the safe return to schools, and we have demonstrated our commitment to partner with WCPS to develop plans and collaborate so that students get the educational opportunities they deserve. With the launch of the "100 Day Roadmap" task force, we are hopeful that teachers' voices and collective ideas can forge a path that is best for students' (and staffs') brains and bodies as we seek a Return to Learn plan that will address learning loss as well as the wellbeing of students' mental and physical health moving forward.
Please remember that WCTA has attempted to work with WCPS since March 2020 to develop safe reopening plans. WCTA was not consulted when WCPS announced reopening this August. WCTA was not consulted by the Board of Education prior to its vote to open fully virtually. WCTA was not consulted prior to the move to fully virtual learning in November. WCTA was not consulted prior to the announcement to reopen to students to students on February 16. When colleagues, whether WCTA members or not, derogatorily announce and proclaim that schools are closed “because of the union,” please correct them and remind them that we advocate for a reopening plan that is safe for students and staff. Making such false statements about “the union” via announcements or comments is not just inaccurate, but inappropriate.
January 12, 2021
WCTA's "Restaurant of the Month" Scholarship Fundraiser Needs Your Dollars & Support
Each month at the WCTA Rep Council meetings, a lucky winner gets either a gift certificate to the Restaurant of the Month or $25 (winner's choice) from the regular drawing in support of the WCTA Scholarship Fund. And if you win once, your name goes back into the hat for a possible win again later in the year. What's not to love about this easy-as-pie way to support the WCTA Scholarship Fund? Just $15 to join the club, but to be eligible for all the 2021 drawings, your $15 and form must be turned in to the WCTA office before January 20. Click here to download the form.
January 4, 2021
Membership Ratifies Tentative Agreement
The tentative agreement was ratified by the membership. Seven days of voting closed on December 23, 2020. The results: 448 members voted. 439 voted in favor of ratification. 9 voted against ratification. The WCBOE will take up the matter at their January 19, 2021 public meeting (6pm).
There is a virtual WCBOE meeting on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 6pm. The topic of interest to most educators is the calendar drafts that the BOE will consider during the meeting. The meeting can be viewed via the WCBOE website, the WCPS FB page, or on Antietam Broadband channel 99.
"100-day Roadmap to Accelerate Learning for All" Gets Underway
WCTA president Neil Becker is co-chairing the now forming "100-day Roadmap to Accelerate Learning for All" task force. Applications for serving on this group to develop a recovery plan for success in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have been solicited through recent WCPS S'more newsletters to staff. Today, January 5, is the final date for application, If you missed this information, click here for the application form. It will close January 5, 2021, at noon.
WCPS Extends the Tentative Student Return Date
On January 4, 2021, WCPS announced new information about rising Covid-19 infection rates in Washington County and the postponement of any in person instruction to no sooner than January 26, 2021, See the WCPS release for details.
December 8, 2020
Tentative Agreement Brings Contract Negotiations To a Close for FY 21; Ratification Vote Coming to Personal Emails in December
After many months of meetings, the WCTA and WCBOE negotiations teams have signed a tentative agreement, effective July 1, 2020. The next step is to complete a ratification vote, which will happen virtually this December.
Members must have a current personal email address on file with WCTA to vote. (The link will NOT be sent via WCPS email.) If members need to update personal email, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. And, if you have questions, please reach out to Neil or Carlos. Special thanks to the WCTA Negotiations Team, led by Chief Negotator Eric Yeakley, for their many hours of volunteer service to this process.
November 24, 2020
Thanksgiving Week Brings a Needed Break; Be Safe & Stay Well
It’s hard to fathom that it’s Thanksgiving week. Time is flying?! This week, we've received word from our administrators that we will remain in our distance learning "pause" through the month of December with tentative plans to resume in person instruction with some groups of students on January 11, 2021. WCTA contiues to advocate for teachers' voices, and we believe that our advocacy is making a difference. Thank you for your continued dedication to the students of WCPS. Enjoy Thanksgiving break - be safe, stay well.
November 18, 2020
WCTA Report to the Board: Fall Survey Data
On Tuesday, November 17, Carol Mowen and Beckie Higgins-Arey presented data, findings, and recommendations from the WCTA Fall Survey to the Washington County Board of Education. View the slides here and view the meeting here.
November 13, 2020
Return to Learn Plan Paused as Infection Rate Rises;
WCPS Begins Covid-Team Emails to Communicate to Staff
Eight months ago, on Friday, March 13, 2020, we said, see you in a few weeks, to our students, only to remain in a virtual learning environment for the remainder of the year. Today many of us said the same thing to our students.
The WCPS decision to close buildings is heartbreaking for so many of us because we know our students need us in their lives and that in-person instruction is the best instruction for many students. The pandemic and its impact on health and safety is real. WCPS leadership made the difficult decision to pause in-person learning until at least December 7, 2020. When that day arrives, and we could remain in full virtual instruction. We could return to a version of Stage Two or Stage Three. We could reopen in an expanded version of Stage Three or in Stage Four. Dr. Michael has already announced that his goal is to expand in-person instruction as early as December 7. Staff knows that. Parents know that. It happen. The metrics will play a role in Dr. Michael's decision.=
Yes, you may work from home or from school. Your choice. Remain in communication with your administrators to retain your safe working conditions, duty-free planning, and other negotiated articles. Speak up now, as schools and WCPS are figuring out how to expand in-person instruction. What are the impacts on your workday, planning, and workload?
If you are concerned about safe working conditions, you can file an Unsafe Working Conditions report. Details at the end of this message.
Employees are receiving more communication from WCPS regarding cases and potential exposure, and that's a step in the right direction. You've asked for information and transparency, and WCTA has advocated for that on your behalf. While not perfect, the recent COVID Team emails are an improvement. You may visit the NEA Reporting Site to report and track reported cases across the nation.
Members have been organizing and taking action as the WCPS Return to Learn Plan has evolved. Members organized a positive rally to take place on November 17 during the BOE meeting. Due to the increasing positivity and hospitalization rates and the governor's mandate to restrict gatherings, it would be irresponsible for WCTA members to gather en masse at CES.
How can you act?
- Watch the BOE meeting on the 17 starting at 6pm. WCTA members Carol Mowen and Beckie Higgins-Arey will be presenting survey data to the elected board.
- Sign up to speak at the BOE meeting. Member voices are powerful.
- Share links to the BOE meeting so that your colleagues and neighbors can watch the meeting.
- Host watch parties during the meeting.
- Post positive, supportive comments during the meeting (via the BOE FB live event).
- During or after the meeting, send emails to WCPS leadership and/or the members of the BOE regarding your thoughts on reopening and safety.
Finally, keep in mind the value of our support personnel. Utilize them during distance learning. We must partner with our ESP brothers and sisters now and in the future as a return date is determined. While 100% virtual instruction is the safest mode and prevents transmission of COVID-19, it presents different risks to our support personnel. If we don=E2=80=99t reopen in the near future, in several weeks or months, several hundred employees could be facing layoffs, which will impact their compensation and their benefits. Worst case scenario, buildings remain closed to students for months, even the remainder of the year--WCPS leadership and the BOE will have significant decisions to make about how many ESP and A&S staff they can keep on payroll. Be united. Be supportive. Be positive.
Safety Concerns during the Return to Learn Working Environment: Unsafe Working Conditions
Article 7.16 states:
The Board and the Association jointly believe that a safe, clean environment is a prerequisite for teaching and learning. Therefore, the Board agrees to provide and maintain safe, clean working conditions as are in its authority to control. The Association agrees to cooperate with and assist the Board in fulfilling this responsibility. Written reports of suspected unsafe working conditions shall be made promptly by employees to building administration. All such reports shall be investigated in a timely manner, and a report will be communicated to the employee within 10 (ten) work days. Further study of the situation and/or implementation of corrective measures shall be initiated by the Board at the earliest feasible time.=E2=
If you believe you are working in an unsafe working environment, and/or that the protocols as stated in the WCPS Documents: <em>Return to Learn Plan, Student Wellness and Safety, Protocol for Employee Wellness, and Supervisor Guidance on Covid-19 are not being followed in your building, it is your duty to promptly inform building administration of unsafe working conditions, by sending an email to your Administrator that includes the statement below as well as a narrative of the unsafe working conditions you are reporting: Per Article 7.16, I would like to report an unsafe working environment.
If your Administrator does not communicate with you within 10 work days, or the safety issue is not resolved, please contact Carlos Mellott at <a
href=3D"mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> and include your initial notice of the safety violation, as well as your Administrator's response. From there we can investigate further and determine if a grievance is warranted. We have 30 days from the date we first had knowledge of the violation to file a grievance.
November 10, 2020
WCPS Announces Pause Today; WCTA Reps to Meet with WCPS Leaders Wednesday
WCPS announced today a pause in-person activities starting on Monday, November 16, 2020. In-person activities may resume on Monday, December 7, 2020, depending on community health metrics. This decision to pause in-person instruction to ensure student and staff safety leaves many questions for educators and the families we serve. WCTA representatives are meeting with WCPS leadership on Wednesday morning. Association advocacy continues, and members will be informed as next steps are clarified. Remain positive and supportive of your students during this challenging time.
November 9, 2020
WCTA Continues to Monitor Metrics
MSEA, WCTA, WCESP, and local associations across the state are closely watching the metrics and advocating for student and staff safety. Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Dorchester, Saint Mary's, and Somerset Counties (to name a few) have paused, delayed, or reversed their in-person return to learn stages in recent days. As the positivity rate continues to climb, safety is priority number one.
Charles: "Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) is prepared to move to Phase 2 of our Reopening Plan; however, the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has caused us to pause our move to in-person learning for students."
Allegany: "The Allegany County Public School System has worked diligently with the collaboration of the Allegany County Health Department to maintain in-person education in ACPS. However, with the shortage of staff available to provide in-person instruction, and the rising COVID-19 metrics in Allegany County, ACPS finds it necessary to return all students to a 100% virtual model at this time."
WCTA is on the record via multiple channels to advertise a date of “no earlier than January 26, 2021” for moving to Stage 4. Please note that the WCPS Return to Learn Plan has always included flexibility for moving forward to Stage 4 or for reverting to earlier stages, if/as needed.
WCTA plans to hold a socially distanced advocacy event on November 17 in the front parking lot/field at CES. We will be asking members and supporters to check in with us there and to listen to the public comment and reports to the board portions of the meeting. We will also hold a peace circle discussion in support of our students and staff to lift spirits and stay positive.
In addition, WCTA members are planning a week of action leading up to the Nov. 17 Board of Education meeting. Be part of "the Voice" of WCTA by getting involved in whatever way(s) you can.
Be prepared for announcements related to moving forward or reverting to previous stages as we continue to work through these extraordinary times. Watch for updates to your school emails and be ready to move your teaching from concurrent to online and back again as the circumstances dictate.
November 4, 2020
WCTA Calls for Advocacy during the Prep for Stage 4:
Metrics Matter and Teacher Voices Need to be at the Table
On Tuesday, November 3, WCTA launched Be the Light, Unite. As the first action in this advocacy campaign, about thirty members met in the field in front of CES to be present for the WCBOE meeting's public comments and to share their thoughts about how to ensure a safe move to Stage 4 for students and staff. WCTA encourages members to view the Board meeting and hear the comments provided by president Neil Becker and member Jessica Burton. (See their comments during the Nov. 3 BOE meeting posted here: http://wcpsmd.com/school-board/board-meetings).
WCTA will continue to deliver this message to Dr. Michael and the elected Board of Education: Let us lead With You.
WCTA has sent teachers a lengthy Return to Learn survey in October. We will be sharing the data with members and WCPS decision-makers soon.
Please see member emails for information from October 27 and October 29.
October 6, 2020 Update
"Stage 3" Start Set for 10/12; Comments at the 10/6 BOE Meeting Share WCTA Concerns and Feedback
WCTA President Neil Becker shared the following public comments with the members of the Washington County Board of Education at the Tuesday, October 6, meeting of the WCBOE. This is the first meeting since March where public comments could be shared during a meeting, so Becker indicated at the beginning of his remarks that he would likely go beyond the allocated time. His comments began at about minute 4:30 and time was called on his comments at about the 10:30 mark. (Video of the BOE meeting available here.) Here are his comments in their entirety for the record:
Good evening, President Williams, elected Board members, Dr. Michael, and staff.
Thank you for your efforts to guide the school system during this very difficult time.
As the nation continues to battle through the pandemic, I commend educators near and far for their dedication to their students. WCPS employees have conducted themselves with dignity, respect, and professionalism, especially as WCPS has unveiled its Return to Learn Plan.
No teacher wants a student to suffer.
No teacher wants a student to struggle through distance learning.
Teachers pride themselves on their dedication to their students, and those employed by WCPS exemplify that dedication.
They are committed to excellence and meeting the needs of their students.
The various phases of the reopening plan continue to rollout, with staff and the community learning that more students will be entering schools in just three school days. With the rollouts of Stages Two, TwoB, and now Three, questions and challenges remain unresolved.
Teaching and learning during a pandemic is stressful. The constant evolution of the WCPS plan, due in part to MSDE’s lack of leadership, compounds the stress, and the fairly rapid acceleration of the plan adds stress for some. Teachers truly wonder if they have room for more students in their classrooms.
Teachers are juggling in-person learners, online learners, and in some cases, learners who are not online or in person.
Teachers are creating synchronous lessons and asynchronous lessons to keep students engaged.
Self-directed planning time hard to find. Teachers spend their limited planning time, which is split into two 30 minute segments at the elementary level, completing some of the following:
Uploading documents, assignments, and videos
Downloading documents, assignments, and videos
Collaborating with colleagues
Emailing parents, students, and colleagues
Trouble-shooting IT issues
Commenting on student work
Putting grades in the gradebook
Completing Safe Schools trainings
Also included in elementary planning time is the time required to escort students to and from their encore courses and to and from lunch.
*Remember: that occurs in 30-minute blocks.
At the middle and high school levels, self-directed planning time includes a 35 minute class period and the two transitions at each end of the class period. It is creative math to get to the contractual minimum because teachers have to wind down classes, respond to any in-person questions, sanitize the space, and ensure that students in the hallways are properly monitored.
Teachers who sanitize their rooms but don’t have a sink in their classrooms must then travel to a hallway bathroom to wash their hands before their next activity. Yes, teachers are spraying and wiping work stations.
Using the restroom must occur during the same planning time because students cannot be unattended during a class.
While there is time following the student day, that is not self-directed planning time. Teachers attend a variety of meetings, such as SST, CFIP, SIT, staff meetings, team meetings, department meetings, collaborative planning, school-based PD, Just in Time PD, and more.
Added to the pandemic stressors is the announcement that teacher evaluations and the WCPS evaluation tool will, for the most part, be business as usual. In the past, the Danielson Model, The Framework for Teaching, has been the WCPS evaluation tool. Teachers spend hours uploading artifacts and ensuring that the artifacts connect to the Framework and the Common Core Standards. Then the teacher and an administrator meet in a pre-observation conference to discuss the uploads, the lesson, and goals. In some cases, an administrator states a specific day for a visit; others announce a two-week window for a visit. The administrator visits a class for an extended time. Administrators spend hours documenting and uploading prior to a post-observation conference.
That’s the “normal” evaluation process, and it will be in place in our far-from-normal classrooms this fall. In light of the fact that teachers are juggling in-person and distance learning simultaneously (now known as concurrent learning or the concurrent classroom), teachers expected a modification of the evaluation process. WCPS has modified one aspect of the Danielson tool, “Section 2e: Organizing Physical Space”. Due to the pandemic, the evaluator won’t penalize teachers for section 2e. Other counties have worked with their associations and negotiated modified tools and timelines that still meet that state standards.
Don’t mistake this portion of my comments to be a plea to eliminate evaluations, but do take it as a request to explore how the process can be more user friendly and less stressful as educators juggle an increasing number of balls that are getting tossed their way. Utilize the coaching model and put your educators at ease.
Earlier you may have noted that teachers include IT troubleshooting as part of their duties. WCPS ranks among the top systems for access to devices in the state of Maryland. Teachers troubleshooting is not an indictment of anyone. The WCPS team is troubleshooting. Every student has a device, and some of the devices are aging, which causes issues in this new concurrent, hybrid, simultaneous environment. Imagine being a media specialist these days… Imagine being one assigned to two schools… The workload is immense for media specialists and every educator navigating technology during these stages.
Clearly workload, stress, and planning time are issues that are not new to educators, but for many, they are exponentially greater issues during distance learning and this concurrent model we are in today.
I did not forget what may be the most important reason to speak today – Safety. Student and staff safety must remain priority number one for WCPS and our entire community. Educators, that includes food service, administrators, custodians, clerical, drivers, maintenance, and teachers are doing their jobs, educating our community’s most precious resources, in the midst of a pandemic. They and their family members may have underlying conditions, but they open the doors to schools and classrooms daily to meet the timelines established by WCPS and the WCBOE.
I don’t have nearly enough time to delve into these issues more deeply, but educators are sacrificing more than you can imagine to execute the WCPS learning plan. Unlike other jurisdictions, many don’t feel like they had genuine input in the development of the plan or the rollout of the stages. Association leaders and the educators we represent often learn of new stages and new dates after or, at-best, the same time the general public learns of them. (Montgomery County PS offers their Association 45 days notice prior to new stages.) Your educators only ask for professional respect.
WCPS didn’t ask for volunteers who feel safe returning to the classroom. WCPS did not offer staff the opportunity to engage in distance learning remotely once Stage Two was announced. All staff, regardless of extenuating circumstances, were mandated to report.
And the vast majority of your employees have reported to work, unlike other jurisdictions. Imagine how we’d navigate Stages Two and Three if 20%-30% of your teachers did not return, as we are seeing in other jurisdictions… Your educators are dedicated to their students and their schools. They deserve the professional respect and courtesy they’ve earned executing the WCPS Return to Learn plan. They need time, time, time.
To quote some educators:
“This pace and workload are not sustainable.”
“I am drowning in work.”
“This is totally overwhelming.”
It doesn’t help our dedicated educators to be perpetually underfunded at the state and local levels. Not only underfunded, but then to have the commissioners target WCPS spending and maintenance. On top of that, the delegation piles on to criticize the WCPS decision to keep students safe. Until the funding agents fully fund WCPS and engage in open conversations about how they can partner with educators to assist them and support public schools, they cannot pretend to know how and when to open schools.
In closing, I have an opportunity for you. Spend a day in the classroom. Not a few minutes, a day, from arrival to dismissal. Watch educators juggle in-person and online students. Experience what an OT or SLP experiences on daily basis. I am not doing justice to all that our members have to express about teaching in 2020.
And just as they get their feet on the ground, a new Stage rolls out with more students to transport, feed, and educate. They’re strong, but they can’t take much more.
September 29, 2020 Updates (A compilation of information from Neil's recent emails sent via the Action Network)
“Stage 2b” Roll Out
This post includes a few tidbits that are meant to support members as we continue this journey through distance or hybrid learning. The “Stage 2b” news and a date for the introduction of Stage Three were surprises to WCTA; we learned of it via the WCPS “S’more,” not in meetings we attended with WCPS in the prior days. WCTA recognizes the value of safe, in-person instruction, especially for students without internet access, but educators need time to prepare for additional students.
Carlos continues to work with WCPS to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to address some of the issues facing members, such as workload, workplace safety, equitable duties, planning, and more.
A safe, measured approach should remain in place as WCPS evaluates if and when more students are welcomed back to schools.
WCPS leadership has made clear that sanitizing products are available for all areas/rooms. If members are not adequately supplied, request products from admin and custodial teams. Contact Carlos if you are unsuccessful.
Coverage continues to be a hot topic throughout the county because it is being handled in many different ways. Discuss options with administration, but absorbing classes should not be the go-to option. Employees may be compensated when absorbing classes/students. Contact WCTA with questions or for clarification.
Unsafe Working Conditions
WCTA and WCPS continue to discuss working conditions. WCPS leadership, your employer, wants to know if there are unsafe working conditions in your schools. Leadership is aware that WCTA is reminding staff of the following processes. The negotiated agreement and whistleblower laws protect employees who report unsafe working conditions.
Safety Concerns during the Return to Learn
Working Environment: Unsafe Working Conditions
Article 7.16 states:
“The Board and the Association jointly believe that a safe, clean environment is a prerequisite for teaching and learning. Therefore, the Board agrees to provide and maintain safe, clean working conditions as are in its authority to control. The Association agrees to cooperate with and assist the Board in fulfilling this responsibility. Written reports of suspected unsafe working conditions shall be made promptly by employees to building administration. All such reports shall be investigated in a timely manner, and a report will be communicated to the employee within 10 (ten) work days. Further study of the situation and/or implementation of corrective measures shall be initiated by the Board at the earliest feasible time.”
If you believe you are working in an unsafe working environment, and/or that the protocols as stated in the WCPS Documents: Return to Learn Plan, Student Wellness and Safety, Protocol for Employee Wellness, and Supervisor Guidance on Covid-19 are not being followed in your building, it is your duty to promptly inform building administration of unsafe working conditions, by sending an email to your Administrator that includes the statement below as well as a narrative of the unsafe working conditions you are reporting:
“Per Article 7.16, I would like to report an unsafe working environment.”
If your Administrator does not communicate with you within 10 work days, or the safety issue is not resolved, please contact Carlos Mellott at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your initial notice of the safety violation, as well as your Administrator’s response. From there we can investigate further and determine if a grievance is warranted. We have 30 days from the date we first had knowledge of the violation to file a grievance.
Evaluations are a work in progress. Teachers on the rotation will be notified by administration. WCTA and WCPS continue to discuss the topic. Administrators must announce formal and informal walk-throughs. Your administrative team may share what their signal is, such an acknowledged wave or thumbs up when he or she enters your Zoom session or classroom.
WCTA Scholarship Crab Feed and Raffle
At-home crab feast raffle. Proceeds fund WCTA scholarships. Ask your building representative(s) or contact Jamie at WCTA for your tickets.
WCTA Board of Directors Update
Congratulations to Susan Starsinic, who is the newly elected HS representative on the WCTA Board of Directors! She is replacing Carol Kreykenbaum-Barnhart who retired just as the school year began. In addition, congratulations to Nitza Rivera, who is the newest ES member at large. She is replacing Robin Spickler who retired in June.
WCBOE Elections this November
WCTA members will be making recommendations regarding the WCBOE elections soon. To be eligible for a recommendation, candidates must have completed a candidate questionnaire. Interviews will be held this week. Recommendations will be published next week.
MSEA COMMITTEE MEMBERS NEEDED!
MSEA Committees are up and running virtually for the 2020-2021 school year, but we’re looking for more members activists to serve on MSEA committees for the coming year. You may be interested in joining the Convention Arrangements (committee members may not serve as convention delegates), ESP Organizing, Instruction and Professional Development, Leadership Development Committees, or Women’s Concerns. Click here for the committee interest form.
MSEA Virutal Representative Assembly
MSEA's event in Ocean City isn't happening, but an online MSEA Convention and annual "Rep Assembly" is going virtual Delegates, including reps from WCTA, will meet via Zoom on October 16-17. Stay tuned for updates posted by MSEA and WCTA.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Questions for the candidates for Mayor and/or the Hagerstown City Council should be emailed to
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.
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:
email@example.com (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.)