I am a high school teacher in the Calvert County Public Schools. I am well aware that virtual learning has become an issue in county politics in recent months. Some parents feel it is necessary to protect the health and lives of vulnerable family members, while others feel it is an unreasonable burden to families who are trying to get through these difficult times while also having to manage multiple children’s at-home education.
I am not writing to engage in that debate. The reality is that, whether you agree with it or not, virtual learning is happening. Virtual learning is the form of school in which our students are currently engaged. It represents their school day.
As a teacher, parent and citizen of Calvert County, I have been shocked by the failure of a portion of our community to recognize and support this reality. I have been shocked at the number of times I have received messages from students telling me they could not attend my classes because they were scheduled to work at their part-time jobs during school hours. I’ve been shocked by messages apologizing for missing my classes because their boss called them into work during school hours.
I have experienced students listening to my class via an earbud as they made sandwiches for people at their fast food jobs. I have watched, terrified, more than once as a student attended my class with her phone perched on her lap as she drove from her home in Dunkirk to her fast food job in Prince Frederick in the middle of the afternoon — a student who was trying to complete her class time while endangering her life and the lives of everyone else on the highway so as to not anger the boss who needed her to make sandwiches for his or her customers.
I have great sympathy for small business owners. My parents owned a small business when I was growing up, and I have some idea of the challenges that entails. I also understand that during the spring, when schoolwork was online and could be completed anytime, businesses may have gotten into the habit of scheduling young people to work whenever they needed them.
I can assure them, however, that school is now scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every weekday. Teachers are online with students all day long, and everyone is taking these classes seriously except, perhaps, the business community of Calvert County. I ask employers whether, were students physically in school, they would feel it was okay to schedule students to work during the school day and to leave their classes to come to work?
That is what they are doing and, frankly, shame on any employer who pulls students out of their school classes to work at their convenience. I don’t know much about child labor laws, but if this is not a violation, it should be.
The business owners and employers of Calvert County need to immediately stop taking school age children out of their classes to work in their kitchens, supermarkets, convenience stores, and day care centers. Their education, whether in person or virtual, as well as their safety, is far too important. I say again, shame on you.