Recent Communications (1/7/22) from our MCCPTA President, Cynthia Simonson:
My Dear Delegates –
In a few weeks, it will be two years since I took the MCCPTA Presidential baton. Certainly, these two years have been unprecedented. Truth. As someone paying attention and working closely with MCPS, especially these last two years, today’s MCPS response to our current crisis concerns me. To be clear, MCCPTA hasn’t taken a position on whether schools should be in person/go virtual. What I have repeated (again and again) is the importance of transparency and clarity around the decisions being made.
I really don’t know what the weekend message will include. I’ve heard speculation from lots of places but here is my quick and dirty list of things that I think if MCPS provided some of this, it would go a long way to answering questions and addressing the concerns that continue to hit my inbox.
For background, as I understand the MCPS-BOE roles, this decision about in-person/virtual and any “test to return” or “test to stay” pathways are all “operational” functions directed out of the Office of the (Interim) Superintendent. The BOE generally doesn’t direct operational functions. If the BOE were to intervene in the operations of the system and direct the (Interim) Superintendent in a specific way, the fastest pathway is for the Board President to call a special meeting. The County Executive and Councilmembers fund the MCPS requests and can hold the system accountable.
Again, not sure what the correspondence this weekend will include but here is my list of things I’d like them to address:
Clarity on who is making decisions. MCPS points to DHHS as the source of direction. DHHS says they provide advice based on the State but only advising MCPS (and when questioned, they aren’t sure about some of the choices). We all recognize, these are hard decisions, made harder on the public when no one is taking responsibility. Stop pointing. Tell us how these decisions are being made and by who!
Admit misunderstanding the 5% – there is tremendous capacity for forgiveness when people admit their mistakes. Mistakes happen. Now you know -- 5% threshold wasn’t the right way to work through the current situation. But, changing the goal posts because the community has questioned the use of self-reported data and an arbitrary “outbreak” threshold (based on said data) is disingenuous.
Once Owned, Explain Your Mistake -- MCPS misunderstanding of data leads to community misunderstanding of data. I think I get it – why 5% (unrelated) is a threshold to identify school outbreaks but that isn’t the same as CDC-defined transmission rates – low, moderate, substantial and high. So, publicly explain the error you made and then call on an expert to explain what it means (and doesn’t mean) so we can rebuild community confidence.
Acknowledge your “Communication Fail” – Acknowledge it was a mistake to have a big press conference announcement about the 5% threshold and how these 11 schools will “go virtual” then post an updated list reflecting 60% of schools over the threshold without a clearly worded statement to parents and staff explaining what that means and what the process will be. When you say the spreadsheet will be updated daily at a particular time, do not ADD yet another spreadsheet and consider that to be the update without clearly explaining to the community why you’ve decided to add another spreadsheet. That can be seen as obfuscation, not communication.
Explain the 14 day virtual timeframe -- Why did MCPS opt not to follow the MSDE guidelines around closure, far less impactful, and jump right to a 14 day virtual plan? If it is because this plan was written during the summer when CDC had a 14 day quarantine period, say that. The timelines have changed (several times). If our goal is safely in-person, explain why “test to stay” or “test to return” aren’t being considered in these instances?
Address expectations and what you hope to accomplish while virtual -- While flipping schools to virtual may minimize large group gatherings (at school), these asymptomatic students and staff are not “quarantined” – this is creating confusion, particularly for asymptomatic students.
Acknowledge the varying risk tolerance of our families -- MCPS has put a number of mitigation measures in place to keep the students and staff safe. But, with the high transmission of COVID variants right now, families may have personal circumstances and experiences where greater assurance is necessary.
Related, be transparent about staffing shortages – MCPS must create transparency around the staff needed to safely operate the schools (to ensure all the mitigation strategies in place) and it is unclear what our daily staffing levels are at specific schools. Make that clear for families.
Address how MCPS will communicate directly with our students -- Our students are watching this unfold. Acknowledge how this is directly affecting their wellbeing and their education. Place students where they belong, at the forefront of your decision-making.
Disclose how much a robust plan will cost and partners necessary to enact -- Include the cost of labor shortages, such as teachers and bus drivers. The community deserves to understand the budgetary implications of a complex, labor-intensive plan. Directly communicate the financial implications to the Board of Education and the community.