By J. Depner
Editor’s note: We are aware that the COVID situation and the District’s actions and statements are prone to change at any time. Some of the specific details in this article might be out of date by the time this issue is published. Please check the BTU website and the email blast for the latest updates. We urge all members to report any and all violations of the Health and Safety Memorandum of Understanding and the updated Health and Safety Guide by filling out this form and contacting your field rep.
The beginning of every school year is an opportunity to return to the basics: revisit familiar objectives, analyze the units that start our curricula, and build new goals for our students. SMART goals are a good place to start. When we talk about the academic progress of our students, we want something specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
When it comes to Baltimore City’s COVID response, we’re missing key elements that enable us to make smart choices as individuals and as schools. The district’s actions to keep students and staff safe doesn’t stand up to the SMART framework.
- The information on continuity of learning plans and how they are going to work is limited and inconsistent.
- There is no clarity on what additional mitigation will protect the health of students who did not opt-in to in-person COVID testing and the students and staff that interact with them
- One of our most important mitigation strategies, mask wearing, does not include practices for correct and consistent mask wearing (breakfast and lunch, recess, mistakes, incorrectly-sized masks, etc.).
- The COVID dashboard only keeps track of positive cases on a rolling 10-day basis and still doesn’t take into account all cases. Does this mean on day 11, cases on the dashboard disappear?
- There are no publicly known thresholds or standards to determine how decisions are made, so how can anyone know what the plan is at all?
- The air exchange rate is extremely important with airborne viruses, but we aren’t investing in CO2 measuring devices to analyze air exchange rate. There is no publicly available document that lists the school buildings that were evaluated, room by room, and were determined to meet air quality standards from the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The negotiated agreement between the BTU and the district says that spaces that don’t meet ASHRAE guidance will not be used, but how do we know which spaces were inspected and approved?
- Social distancing guidelines from page 6 of the District’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) acknowledge that social distancing is not always possible. The phrase three feet appears only once in the whole document and is critically weakened by the phrase “to the extent possible”. In practice, social distancing is being completely ignored in many schools.
- Seating charts are not being tracked or used in lunch rooms in many schools across the district, according to numerous staff members. Are teachers really keeping track of who plays with whom at outdoor recess?
- The SOP stipulates that common surfaces like doorknobs need to be disinfected several times a day and also after school. Yet the district is not providing any extra staff members to assist with this added workload. Many teachers are not even being provided with cleaning supplies for this purpose. In fact, some teachers and staff members have reported that their schools did not even have soap or paper towels in the bathrooms on the first week of school.
- The district’s SOP is based on outdated data from before the full extent of the Delta variant was known.
- The district’s SOPs are based on CDC data that does not track breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals that do not result in hospitalization.
- Staff members across the district report hearing from colleagues and families of COVID infections days before they are contacted by Human Capital.
- There are unclear procedures for how RSPs who work across multiple schools and classrooms will be included in a close contact circle, and how they will access regular testing.
- There’s no time limit or deadline for when the district must notify close contacts or the school community of a positive COVID case
- There’s no regular schedule for when the Health and Safety Guidelines will be updated, so people can anticipate changes at regular intervals.
- The district has not made a written commitment to continue asymptomatic COVID testing for the entire duration of the school year.
SMART goals help guide many teachers’ classrooms for a simple reason: they are more effective than vague goals and the misaligned actions that derive from them. It’s true that conditions are changing rapidly, and that’s why we need information from the district that gives us details and is realistic about our challenges and context. Without this clarity, we are in danger of another year of missed opportunities to learn, grow, and stay safe.