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Update on the Last Day of the School Year

Dear Educators,

As you know, the school system did not come to an agreement with the BTU regarding shifting time from the end of this year to the start of next school year. Consequently, district leadership has chosen to extend the school year for teachers and PSRPs to June 23. I am deeply disturbed by this decision. Unnecessary and punitive, district leadership has sent a clear message to Baltimore City’s educators that they will ignore the collective voice of educators when they disagree with us. Not only does this extension of the school year violate our contract, it fails to recognize the professionalism, dedication, and commitment that educators have shown to the students and families of Baltimore during this historic and ongoing pandemic.

Given that we’re being forced to work through June 23, it’s important to remember that even without our dispute of days worked from March 16-19, it’s within the power of the CEO to end the school year right now. That’s what’s happening in Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and on and on. These districts are ending the school year short of their contractual maximums and not adding days to next school year.

The CEO’s letter is written as if it’s impossible to end the year early without the BTU agreeing to add PD days to next year. It is not. Our contracted 190 days is a maximum. Other Maryland superintendents have ended the year early, ours is choosing not to. It is the CEO’s choice.

In 2010, we missed an incredible amount of school due to Snowmageddon. The state waived five days, and the CEO then ended the school year for teachers and PSRPs the same day it ended for students. We worked well under 190 days. Because of snow.

We are still in the midst of a historic pandemic. Many of us have had family members and loved ones fall ill, and through it all you put in countless hours in front of screens, building distance schooling from scratch.

During the hectic first week of school closure, BTU had regular communication with district leadership. So much work was being done to establish distance learning, BTU had to explicitly request that district leadership reiterate to school principals that Spring Break (March 20-27) needed to be duty free. When this message was not adequately communicated, I chose to draft a letter to principals myself, which ultimately spurred district leadership to make a clearer statement to principals ensuring that Spring Break was to be a work-free time.

In April, the BTU made clear again that educators had worked during the week of March 16. We pointed to statements made by the CEO and the Chief of Schools acknowledging our essential work during that time, we discussed various tasks and assignments coordinated and overseen by school leaders, and we made public comments to the School Board stating that work done during the week of March 16 needed to be recognized. During the month of May, it was shared with the BTU that while district leadership recognized the hard work educators put in during the initial weeks of school closure, they felt it did not meet our contractual obligations. We immediately responded that their view was highly disrespectful to the work of Baltimore’s educators.

On May 26, BTU made another public comment to the School Board emphasizing that we had worked during the week March 16, and this comment was followed by other comments made by teachers and parents discussing this essential work. On May 27, over two and a half months after we first made clear our view, district leadership contacted the BTU to formally discuss shifting time from this year to next school year. We immediately asked for written proposals so that we could have an efficient and informed meeting. These were not sent until June 5, and they included a variety of options that lacked specific details. We rejected these.

Then on Thursday, June 11, we received the first serious offer from the district. BTU leadership immediately crafted a survey for membership to help inform us of your views. While clear majorities of nearly 3,000 respondents rejected the district’s proposals, the comments led us to engage in further discussions with district leadership. We attempted to craft paid, asynchronous PD options to take place during the month of August, which the district had indicated an interest in at one point in time. We learned that the district rejected these proposals at the same time as you, when the CEO sent the letter to all staff indicating that the last day of the year would be June 23.

I don’t know why district leadership waited so long to engage the BTU on an issue whose importance we shared months ago, and whose importance is now being claimed by the district. The CEO could still choose to end the school year tomorrow and spare us from unhelpful professional development, as many other superintendents have. It is not too late to do what is right. If she doesn’t, we will more intensely consider other options, including filing a class action grievance for violating our contracted maximum of days worked.

As a lifelong Baltimore City resident and graduate of City Schools, I’ve long known that committed educators do what’s right for students regardless of district leadership’s actions. I know that many of you have been protesting side by side with our students and many of you have called elected representatives to fight for adequate funding and resources. I know that all of you participate in unpaid, often self-directed professional development all the time. Time and time again, when the school system falls short, you fill the gaps. Educators are the frontline workers who are there for students when the system fails them.

For the last 13 weeks, while all was uncertain and upended, you held this school system together. I am proud to work with you and proud to fight by your side for what’s right. Together, we will continue to fight for what our students deserve while also fighting for fair treatment and recognition from the district. We will not be pitted against one another.

Reach out to us at any point. While summer is around the corner and you deserve to rest and recover, the BTU will be working hard throughout the coming months to ensure the health and safety of students and staff are the top considerations for any reopening plans.

In solidarity,

President Diamonté Brown