April 10, 2020
Families for Education Improvement (FEI) and its affiliate non-profit FEI Foundation applaud the Howard County BOE and Superintendent Martirano for a rapid response to maintain nutrition assistance to students in need via the Grab-N-Go program. FEI also urges the Howard County BOE to immediately postpone implementation of the Redistricting plan in lieu of more critical and urgent priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the social and educational framework and the BOE needs to focus all human and capital resources in this effort urgently. FEI requests the BOE consider the following immediate priorities:
- Create a task force and develop short-term, intermediate and long-term plans to maintain student, teacher and staff health and safety in order for schools to reopen.
- Develop more comprehensive on-line learning processes and protocols to allow uninterrupted education for all grades that meet the same standards of education that HCPSS provided via in-classroom education. The BOE and HCPSS must consider distance learning to be a priority.
- Reevaluate all operating budget decisions in light of the potential for a significantly different operating environment.
HCPSS must deliver rigorous education opportunities to ALL students in Howard County, while also determining how to provide additional resources directly to students for whom distance learning may create challenges such as special needs and families without in-home access to internet connectivity. The county is entering an unprecedented situation with regard to public health concerns and also economic disruption. Governor Hogan announced an immediate State budget freeze and anticipates that declines in state revenue due to COVID-19 will impact state budgets for years to come. We should expect similar COVID-19 ramifications at the county level. In the last 3 weeks, over 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. Many economists now predict that the national unemployment rate could reach or exceed 20%. The Socio-economic status (SES) data upon which the prior Redistricting was based, is now obsolete and useless in attempting to balance needs among schools. HCPSS and BOE must consider the potential for a dramatic increase in FARM needs at all schools and grade levels. Many additional families across all regions of Howard County will be experiencing economic hardship and the BOE needs to focus on (1) an operating plan for distance learning (2) an operating plan that prioritizes safety and health and (3) capital spending plan that focuses resources and delivery of educational opportunities to the students and anticipates significantly greater FARMS needs.