Photo: Car that participated in the caravan
On Feb. 23, the parking lot at the Montgomery County Public Schools central office in Maryland swarmed with car horns, brightly colored signs, and shouts as thousands rallied outside a closed session meeting of the Board of Education. Among the participants were residents, parents and teachers’ union members. People from all over Montgomery County, Maryland had come to support the Montgomery County Educators Association as well as the Service Employees International Union in declaring “no confidence” in the MCPS school reopening “plan.”
School reopening at all cost has become a driving mantra of ruling-class politicians and business interests all over the United States, regardless of COVID-19 metrics that far exceed those that caused schools to shutter in 2020. Democrat-run local and state governments all over the country, as well as the Biden administration at the federal level, have favored a heavy handed approach over the kind of thorough and democratic process that would actually yield a safe reopening plan.
Montgomery County is not immune to these pressures. Decades of voting overwhelmingly for Democratic Party politicians has not saved Montgomery County residents or MCPS employees and students from the deeply damaging pro-corporate policies that plague so much of this country.
After cowering before Republican governor Larry Hogan when he threatened to “explore every legal avenue at our disposal” if schools were not reopened by March 1, the Montgomery County BOE quickly abandoned the health-driven, cautious approach it had previously held during this pandemic up to that point. Even with the county’s own health metrics pointing to a “Very High” level of risk and community spread, as of the writing of this article BOE officials have moved to accelerate school reopening to March 1 to comply with the bullying of the governor and a very small but vocal group of parents. The politicians threw educators, students and other county staff under the proverbial school bus with blinding speed.
MCEA leaders adeptly directed almost 1,000 cars in the two-and-a-half hour protest, garnering press coverage from several major TV stations and newspapers with one even dispatching a helicopter to capture the massive scale of the action. A rally was held with both live and virtual speakers representing parents, union officials and others. Many in attendance spoke about how moved they were to see such a large group of people band together in working-class solidarity on this important and pressing issue that means life or death to many involved. A parent noted, “When the pandemic started, teachers were praised and honored … now, they are being villainized for trying to keep their communities safe.” Speakers expressed concerns that MCPS had not made a commitment to vaccinate teachers and staff and had not until this point explained any testing regiment.
“MCPS employees are NOT the Giving Tree! We will NOT sacrifice our health and safety. We are insulted that it was assumed that we should just suck it up and obey the delusional, dangerous directives,” said MCEA Vice President Jennifer Martin. Due to pressure from parents and educators MCPS has since added plans to perform asymptomatic testing, has pressured the governor to allocate more vaccines for teachers and school staff as well as committing to having a health technician or nurse in all schools.
But these concessions are not enough. The MCEA as well as vocal and organized parents and residents of Montgomery County will continue to fight to provide the schools our children deserve. This struggle is building unity as people begin to understand that our struggles are connected.