Montgomery Public Schools will return to all-remote learning and teaching on Feb. 1, in response to a rash of teacher deaths and calls from the Alabama Education Association for the system to re-evaluate its COVID-19 protocols.
MPS Superintendent Ann Roy Moore made the announcement at a press conference Monday afternoon, saying that the state’s third-largest school district would likely not return to in-person instruction until the faculty and staff had received coronavirus vaccinations.
“The fear factor is out there among our teachers,” Moore said. “I hear from them every day. And while I know they all want to be in the classroom teaching, they are also very afraid of what they’re seeing.”
Ten MPS teachers have died since November, although Moore said she could only definitively say that four of those deaths were due to COVID-19. APR found evidence of at least seven of those employees being admitted to hospitals and either diagnosed with COVID or treated for COVID-like symptoms, according to interviews with family members and friends and posts from the victims or family members on Facebook.
Following Moore’s announcement, MPS board member Jannah Bailey was critical of the state’s vaccination protocols that failed to place teachers in the top tier.
“What has been upsetting to me and the board and the central office is that our teachers throughout the state of Alabama were not a priority when the vaccines came out,” Bailey said. “In my opinion, all of the teachers should have been on first tier. Now, with all of these COVID infections and COVID deaths, we’re still two weeks before they’re even in the tier.”
There also doesn’t seem to be a uniform plan for administering teacher vaccinations once they’re eligible. While noting that MPS would likely not return to in-person instruction until those vaccinations were received, Moore also said she was a bit befuddled by the suggested process, which would see teachers make their own appointments for vaccinations. Such a piecemeal process could result in weeks of delays, as the state’s teachers try to jockey for vaccines that are in short supply.
Both Moore and Bailey said they want to examine that process further and work with the Alabama Department of Public Health on a better process.
Monday’s announcement from Moore came after AEA associate executive director Theon Stokes wrote a letter to Moore and board members on Friday asking that they reexamine their protocols and return temporarily to virtual learning and teaching.