by Bryan Renbaum,

Groups representing Maryland’s teachers urged state officials to make virtual learning uniform for the first half of the 2020-21 school year because of concerns associated with the spread of COVID-19.

“We are calling for the 2020-21 school year to begin with virtual learning and instruction for at least the first semester,” Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) president Cheryl Bost said at a virtual news conference that was held on the video meeting site Zoom on Tuesday. MSEA sponsored the conference.

Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, said safety must be the foremost priority when considering educational arrangements.

“Protecting the safety of Maryland educators, students, families requires this action. We believe it is the right approach and the safe one.”

Bost said having virtual learning in the fall might make it possible for in-person learning later in the school year.

“Caution now makes it more likely that we will be able to transition to a hybrid model after the year begins. And, possibly, a mostly in-person model later in the school year when it is safe.”

Baltimore Teachers Union president Diamonte Brown pushed back against claims by some that teachers are simply looking for ways to avoid being in their classrooms.

“We actually prefer in-person teaching. And, also, many educators and support staff are fearful that virtual learning can compromise their jobs.”

Brown hammered her point home.

“We prefer in-person teaching. But we also prefer our lives over everything. We prefer our students lives over convenance. It is more convenient to teach in person. However, it is not right now the safest way.”

Maryland PTA Vice President for Membership Tonya Sweat said having students in the classroom could pose a health risk to the entire community.

“In ordinary times parents would have no qualm with sending their babies off to school to learn. These are not ordinary times. We are now facing a new and unprecedented reality in which every child’s health- and those who they come into contact with-are at risk.”

Bost, Brown and Maryland PTA President Dr. Edna Harvin Battle submitted the request to Gov. Larry Hogan and State School Superintendent Karen Salmon in a letter on Tuesday.

While a decision has yet to be made a state level, some jurisdictions, such as Howard and Montgomery counties, have already announced distance learning plans for the fall. Furthermore, some jurisdictions are considering hybrid arrangements in which learning may take place both at home and in the classroom. Maryland is currently in Stage 2 of the recovery process. The state will have to enter Stage 3 before schools are allowed to operate as they did prior to the pandemic.

But not everyone agrees the distance learning should be the rule. Some argue that is time for students to return to the classroom to restore a sense of normalcy and because some students have trouble with distance learning. President Donald Trump also has urged states to re-open the schools nationwide.