Group diverse students in school building checked and scanned for temperature check. Elementary pupils are wearing a face mask and line up before entering into classroom. (Courtesy photo)

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Public schools are weeks away from in-person reopenings. Though the delta variant of coronavirus continues to spread, vaccination is not required for students and masks are quickly becoming a precaution of the past.

As parents weigh their options, discussions about what should change in public schools, what should stay the same and what should never have been are growing.

“There should be no more snow days,” said Christina Francis-Lane, a 45-year-old mother of two Baltimore City College students. “We have a virtual learning process in place. Children should be able to stay home during any type of inclement weather and jump online with their teachers.”

“That’s something that needs to be strengthened and that’s something that needs to stay.”

The Baltimore native also said she hopes to see classroom overcrowding tackled by keeping the hybrid schedules used during the pandemic, which called for different grades to report for in-person learning according to the “A” or “B” week schedule assigned.

“That would cut back on the hallway situation where they are shoulder to shoulder. There should not be any more overcrowding in schools.”

Francis-Lane praised the teachers, staff and administration at Baltimore City College for the strong network of support they built for students suffering with depression or struggling with virtual learning. In the wake of the pandemic, she said she hopes to see better infrastructure for therapists and psychologists in public schools.

Founded in 1839, Baltimore City College is a fixture in Charm City with a rich history. The building is at the top of a list of Baltimore City Public Schools without air conditioning. What used to be an annoyance or small distraction became an enormous health risk during the pandemic. Even after schools reopened in-person more than two dozen had to shut down again on multiple occasions for lack of air conditioning.

In total, City Schools has reported that 25 schools still did not have air conditioning as of June 14.

Valerie Grays is a 58-year-old Baltimore native who believes the pandemic has exposed key areas that have long begged for change. The mother of three children and one “bonus son” said building sanitization and the plan for student transportation could both use some serious revamping.

“We have to make sure that we have high standards for constant cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day in the schools, especially the classrooms and restrooms- high touch areas,” said Grays. “Schools should have automatic faucets, soap and towel dispensers as examples. Those push faucets don’t stay on long enough and are not sanitary.”

Grays is also concerned about the safety of middle and high school students who use public transportation.

“My child is in high school and she takes the bus home. They were crowded before COVID-19 and that’s something that needs to change.”

Grays said she wants to see the City work with transportation administrators to get more buses in operation for students during the school year. “It’s not just for COVID-19,” she said. “It’s for the flu and any other kind of virus that is out here. We need to keep children healthy and safe during these times.”

Aside from health concerns, Grays listed digital literacy as another opportunity for growth. In response to the pandemic, City Schools sprang into action by providing each family with a laptop to connect to virtual classrooms. The district was key in securing internet access and devices for students, but many families had a need for multiple devices and data caps hindered efforts for everyone.

Moving forward, Grays said she wants to see each family fully equipped with digital resources needed to thrive. “We need to make sure that everyone has the laptops, the iPads and the hotspots. We need to make sure that we get the funds so students have access to that equipment they need to be successful.”

“Students should not be doing homework on their phones.”

As the pandemic has tested the ability of public school districts to respond to disasters, she hopes more will be better equipped to handle any kind of catastrophe that might seriously affect students and disrupt the school year.

“Nobody thought a pandemic was coming,” she said. “ We’ve learned now that we have to constantly be thinking out of the box and have plans in place for the unknown.”

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer