By Bella Kaguyutan

Staff Writer

HCEA Protest
Image Source: Baltimore Sun 

As the return to school has fallen upon us, teachers across Howard County have expressed concern and discontent with the hybrid model. On January 21st, Governor Larry Hogan made a call to action for all Maryland schools to return by March 1st. Following this announcement, Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) created a hybrid plan in which all students who want to return to in-person learning will be in the classroom by April. As the reopening of schools approached, more and more questions of safety came to light. 

Maryland is one of 28 states where educators are listed as a specific group to receive the COVID-19  vaccine if they choose to do so. Educators were a part of Maryland’s 1B Phase of vaccine rollout, but according to an unnamed member of Hammond High School staff, receiving the vaccine was, “Extremely challenging for teachers where for a while it was like a poorly run lottery system, where it was first come first served in who could claim the vaccines the fastest.”

The educators of Howard County decided to voice their concerns through a drive-in rally at the Board of Education. On February 16th, hundreds of Howard County teachers and administrators gathered in the Howard High School parking lot and later drove to the Board of Education. In response to this, Dr. Chao Wu, the Howard County Board of Education Chair, said the board’s highest priority is the safe return to school.  

As much as many teachers want to return to schools after months of virtual learning, they want to have their health and safety be considered. Colleen Morris, the president of the Howard County Education Association (HCEA), spoke to The Baltimore Sun, saying, “Everyone wants to be back with our students, but we want to do so safely.” 

In these past months of virtual learning, teachers have gone above and beyond to make it the best it can be for students and are now having their voices go unheard. In response to this, some Howard County educators plan on not going the extra mile and will only do work they are contractually required to do in response to the reopening. 

The last time a work-to-rule resolution such as this occurred in Howard County was in 1991. After the county made spending cuts, 2,700 HCPSS educators protested through work-to-rule. This is not a protest of spending cuts, but of safety. In a Baltimore Sun article on the work-to-rule resolution, Morris commented,  “This isn’t your ordinary work to rule. This is a work-to-rule for our lives. Our members have reached a breaking point, and your model puts them at great risk for very little, if any, improvement over virtual learning.”

A large portion of an educator’s work, like grading and lesson planning, occurs outside of the hours they are contractually obligated to work. With this work-to-rule resolution in place, educators who are taking part in this will not be working outside of the hours they have to work. According to the Howard County Education Association (HCEA), this resolution will be in place until the Howard County Board of Education withdraws its plan for educators to return to school without being immunized. 

Originally Howard County had planned to return to schools four days a week in the final quarter depending on the metrics at the time. After Hogan’s sudden announcement that Maryland schools must begin hybrid learning, HCPSS created the new hybrid model. When asked about the original model versus the upcoming hybrid model, a member of the Hammond High School staff feels that, “This was their original plan, so to change everything so suddenly and rush teachers and students back in is irresponsible.”