By Michael Donaldson
The lack of transparency from Baltimore City School leadership is extremely troublesome for teachers, staff, parents, students, and various other community stakeholders. Not only does this lack of transparency cause a great deal of unwarranted anxiety, it can also be dangerous–even deadly.
The greatest concern around this lack of transparency is directly associated with the reopening of schools amidst a global pandemic. As of this writing, there has been a well-documented spike in positive coronavirus cases as well as reported deaths. As many individuals in the Baltimore Teachers Union have stated, the city created a reopening plan that was submitted to, and accepted by, the Maryland State Department of Education early in the school year. This plan provided a list of specific metrics that indicated that reopening would only take place after a substantial decrease in transmission and danger. This plan is no longer being used as the blueprint.
Prior to the submission of this original plan, the school system provided parents in the district with a survey. This survey asked parents for feedback, offering the appearance that district leadership was concerned about parent input. It needs to be pointed out that this survey was sent to parents at the close of summer when cases seemed to have plateaued and the country looked ready to reopen. Since that time, numbers have drastically risen; yet those early survey responses are being used by district leadership as evidence for parents calling for the reopening of schools. In fact, the most recent parent interest survey was not sent to parents until district leadership made the formal announcement that all elementary and high schools would provide live instruction.
Besides the troubling manner in which the reopening plan is being rolled out, school leadership has also been reckless in how it has used statistics to hide the truth. For several weeks, district leadership has touted that the number of COVID-19 transmission cases within schools is non-existent. Members from North Avenue have stated repeatedly that children are not carriers of the virus and that numbers of infected staff are minimal. These allegations are false and are being used to force a narrative that the media and elected officials can freely cite. The truth is that the number of staff who have tested positive for the Coronavirus is much larger than what is being reported. Additionally, there are many recent studies that suggest children can have the virus but remain asymptomatic. This puts all adults – including elderly relatives of students – at unnecessary risk.
BTU members have also expressed concerns about the lack of a transparent explanation for the urgent push for children to return to school now. Other districts in the state acknowledge how close teachers are to receiving two vaccinations. The partnership between the school system and Johns Hopkins is an indicator of the importance of said vaccination. Instead of delaying the reopening of schools, however, District leadership contends that a decrease in attendance and the increase in the number of failing students from the first quarter is the main reason for the frantic push for reopening. The first quarter ended in October and therefore, to say that schools need to open based on the performance of students from the first quarter now in February appears unlikely.
Finally, the school system has blatantly been deceptive in its dissemination of information. School staff were told on January 14th that the reopening of impacted grades would occur in the middle of February. This information had been rumored for weeks, but district leadership denied that this was the case. It is also being told to the media and community members that schools are ready for the return of students. This could not be further from the truth. Most schools set to reopen do not have the resources in place to make them safe, including air purifiers and personnel needed for adequate sanitizing.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, it is obvious that one thing Baltimore City Public Schools has done poorly at during this pandemic (as well as at many other points over the years) is provide transparency. Misinformation is being presented as fact and legitimate information is being trickled down to teachers and staff only when it is convenient for leadership to do so. This is an unjustifiable practice to a staff that is willing to do just about anything for the betterment of children–except, that is, to die doing so.