Maryland county shifts to virtual learning -- and then opens "equity hubs" for students

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Closing down schools due to fear of infection and then gathering the kids together anyway is *chef’s kiss*.

Thought experiment: What if we had actual teachers supervising the children at these equity hubs? Perhaps with a blackboard and some chalk tastefully positioned at the front of the room?

And what if, to pass the time, the teacher taught things and the children learned?

Something to consider as we embark on year three of America’s very thoughtful approach to the pandemic, perhaps.

MCPS is providing in-person Equity Hubs for Kindergarten through Grade 5 students in schools that have transitioned to virtual learning. Virtual learning may pose a challenge for families whose children need a safe place to learn while their parents work; cannot access virtual learning from home or who need a more structured learning environment. The Black and Brown Coalition and The Children’s Opportunity Fund have partnered with childcare providers to establish Equity Hubs as a solution.

Families whose children are engaged in virtual learning can register for all-day child care and support during virtual instruction at one of 103 Equity Hubs across Montgomery County.

We should start calling schools “equity hubs.” That might make Democrats want to keep them open.

Congregating children in a space to learn but insisting that they learn virtually, through a screen, feels like a lowbrow parody of the irrationality of COVID policies in schools. Mary Katharine Ham is right: The “equity hubs” nonsense is proof of concept, that the school district does believe it’s safe enough to bring children together in an enclosed space to learn.

“I kinda hope the proctors are actually teachers getting paid overtime,” Scott Lincicome snarked about the arrangement.

A Twitter pal reminded me last night that this inane “virtual, but in person” set-up isn’t new. They were doing it in Virginia a year ago:

As students across the region start trickling back into schools, they may find their teachers still at home. Montgomery and Fairfax County are hiring $15-an-hour monitors to keep an eye on students in some classrooms, while their teachers log in through the internet.

Some parents have criticized the plan, saying it sounds like glorified babysitting, while others are eager to get their kids back in school, even without teachers there…

“The classroom teacher will actually be doing the instruction and the teaching, just from a remote standpoint or virtual standpoint,” Brooks said. “But the classroom monitor will be able to assist with taking attendance and the needs that the students have right there.”

I can think of two possible explanations for going “virtual, but in person.” One: So many teachers are infected with Omicron right now that schools can’t staff classrooms safely even if they want to. The only way to hold class without putting kids at risk is to have infected teachers give lessons remotely, while they’re recovering.

In that case, though, why not use substitute teachers in person instead? Are too many of them also down from COVID?

Two: As has been the case for most of the pandemic, teachers absurdly overestimate the risk to themselves and their students from being in class together and don’t want to come back until the Omicron wave is over. They’re not infected, they’re just keen to avoid infection.

Let the low-paid proctors at the “equity hubs” cope with that risk instead, I guess.

I’d be curious to know how many teachers in Montgomery County are actually infected right now and, of those, how many are holding class remotely for their students. It’d be much easier to buy the theory that they want to be in class but too many are too sick to do it if we hadn’t been through this same absurd arrangement a year ago, when there were fewer cases. The “equity hubs” solution precedes Omicron. So what’s really going on here?