The Talbot County Branch of NAACP in consultation with the NAACP Health and Wellness Committee finds that it is critical that all parents and caregivers have a resounding voice regarding the 2020-2021 reopening school plan. It is recognized that leadership of Talbot County Public Schools are faced with many complex and difficult decisions however, if safety measures cannot be enforced, the Talbot County Branch of the NAACP is not in favor of this Reopening Plan. The decision for traditional classroom learning in any capacity has the potential to be harmful if not fatal to all its constituents. The spread of Covid-19 as otherwise known as Coronavirus has had an enormous impact worldwide causing a global pandemic. Talbot County is not immune to the rising number of positive Covid-19 cases. As of August 11th 2020, Talbot County confirmed 404 cases and 67 active cases. Transparency of exposure is necessary in decreasing the spread of this disease. If one person in a class is identified as positive for Covid-19, what criteria will be used to identify which staff and students should be quarantined at home? While the Talbot County Public Schools’ recovery plan appears robust on paper, we must question the realistic and practicability of carrying out such policies and procedures when there is no discussion on how accountability of these measures will be managed or the specific metrics used to determine readiness.
Although it is acknowledged that parents will have a choice, it is critical for TCPS to have in place definitive implementation logistical strategies that will maximize the safety requirements recommended by the CDC in preventing transmission prior to returning students to the school buildings. The TCPS recovery plan outlines some of these measures however, it lacks how staff will be equipped with the ability to properly carry out all of the mandates, and under which influence will exclusions be allowed. Covid-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets thus eye covering and a mask should be worn to maximize prevention of spread. It is unrealistic to expect all students to have the ability to withstand the necessary personal protective strategies and have an optimal learning experience. Cleaning practices of the buses and school buildings to include classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria etc. should be specified with great detail. The cohort experience in its totality is not clearly defined which leaves the question of readiness by the indicated timeline.
The parent and staff survey favored the virtual learning option, but despite the survey results of the Talbot County Board of Education approved the recommendation brought forth by Dr. Kelly Griffith to start school on September 8th with virtual learning and phasing in “priority special population groups” with face-to-face instruction on the second week. It is imperative for Dr. Griffith to define “priority special population groups” and provide targeted demographic data on this population. Is it possible that “priority special population groups” would be made up of mostly Black and Brown students which could in turn increase the transmission rate amongst the African American, Hispanic and other minority communities? The CDC reports there is increasing evidence that some racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Has there been consideration of how much impact may be placed on the Black and Brown community with this decision?
It is not difficult to notice surrounding counties are offering complete virtual learning for at least the first few months. Why must TCPS use our community as the testing subjects? What resources are being used in other school systems to provide educational support to those children with physical or developmental disabilities, working families, homeless populations etc.? Have you sought creative ideas from educators with expertise in learning disabilities? Some counties are working with entities such as social services, local care teams and other community organizations to assist in providing education rather than exposing our most vulnerable students to COVID-19. What methods are being deployed to hire a coordinator for the blended virtual program option under this Reopening plan and the definitive timeline for having process and procedures fully up and functioning? It is imperative that this option is operating at full capacity to allow parents a functionable option, since it is mentioned in this reopening plan.
It is our recommendation that the Talbot County Board of Education address our concerns presented in this letter. If these aforementioned areas are not addressed prior to the established reopening date we WILL advocate for our Black and Brown communities to stay at home and seek alternative educational options. As community members we would like to encourage TCPS to be proactive rather than reactive. These concerns are critical to the safety and success of all students, teachers, staff and parents of Talbot County.
Richard M. Potter, Jr. is the president of the Talbot County NAACP and Dyshekia Strawberry is the NAACP Health & Wellness Committee Chair