TOWSON, MD. (WJZ) — Maryland teachers’ unions are pushing the governor to keep classrooms closed for at least the first semester of the new school year, citing safety concerns during the COVID—19 pandemic.

“Making this decision now would give every district at least a full six weeks to plan and troubleshoot around one known and understood model of learning,“ the Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teachers Union and Maryland PTA said in a joint letter to Governor Larry Hogan. “Exceptions to this should be possible only in districts with the very lowest levels of infection and community spread and with the strong educator and family support necessary in those jurisdictions.“

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Diamontè Brown, the President of the Baltimore Teachers Union, blasted the already poor conditions in some city school buildings and said dealing with a pandemic exacerbates those problems.

“We prefer in-person teaching, but we also prefer our lives over everything. We prefer our students lives over convenience,” Brown said.

She said the school buildings in Baltimore are “worse than they are in almost every other school district due to historic underfunding because of racism. We also know that Baltimore City public schools lack basic resources like air [conditioning] and technology.”

The unions also wrote to the governor, “We need to face reality: Too many schools in Maryland have restrooms that lack soap or paper towels on a normal day before the pandemic.”

“How many educators’ lives are to be put at risk while testing if we can conduct in-person learning safely? How many students? How many parents and grandparents of our students? The answer should be none,” said MSEA President Cheryl Bost.

President Trump has pushed for schools nationwide to reopen. In an exclusive interview with CBS News Tuesday, he stood by that decision.

Mr. Trump had this message to those who feel it is unsafe: “I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person whoever is in charge of that decision, because it’s a terrible decision,” Mr. Trump said. “Because children and parents are dying from that trauma, too. They’re dying because they can’t do what they’re doing. Mothers can’t go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers.”

The president said that being unable to send children to school puts a “tremendous strain” on parents, and called the issue a “balancing act.”

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President Trump also said the issue is about more than safety and blamed Democrats.

“I also say a decision like that is politics because we’re starting to do very well in the polls because I’m for law and order. I’m for strong business. Our jobs are coming back at a record level like we’ve never seen anything like it…” he said.

Governor Hogan, a Republican, said over the weekend he would not be rushed into making a decision about schools.

”I think everybody would like to get our kids back to school as quickly as we can. We also want to make sure that our kids are going to be as safe as possible—so we’re not going to be rushed into this,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “From the beginning of this crisis, we’ve always been working very closely with our doctors and our scientists to make sure that we’re doing the things that make the most sense in our our state. The superintendent of schools will be sitting down this week to get a report. She’s been meeting with all of the local jurisdictions and with all of the top health professionals, getting all the stakeholders input, but we’re gonna come up with a plan. It’s probably going to be a hybrid that talks about how we’re going to provide the best education for our kids and do it in the safest way.”

In Howard County, which has the state’s earliest scheduled starting date in late August, the superintendent recently told lawmakers that a majority of staff members surveyed do not feel safe returning. He said a virtual option would be available for students, and he is considering a hybrid of classroom and online instruction.

“When asked how safe do you feel about your return to school for the Fall—across staff groups—over five in ten respondents felt it was little to not safe at all,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Maritrano said on June 30. He also told lawmakers, “We have children who are medically fragile. We have children with underlying health conditions. But at the same time, my concern is with our staff. We have a number of staff members who are over the age of 65, who are in a vulnerable age group.”

 

If schools do reopen to personal instruction, Dr. Chris Thompson, a Loyola University of Maryland biologist, said everyone in the classroom should be wearing a mask.

“Masks should absolutely be mandatory in my opinion,” Dr. Thompson told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “That is the one thing that we’ve consistently seen that inhibits the spread of this virus. We need to wash our hands. We need to wear masks. We need to social distance if we’re going to do this.”

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.