The increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland has some school officials making sure students won’t return to the classrooms until at least early next year.
Prince George’s County, which continues to record the most confirmed cases in the state exceeding 34,400, will continue to assess whether to incorporate a mix of in-person instruction and virtual learning by Feb. 1.
Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said students would come back to the buildings only “if it is safe to do so.”
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, Prince George’s County Educators’ Association president, said Goldson reaffirmed that message with members of the union Thursday, Nov. 5.
“It gives people a sense of relief. We have had three members of PGCEA die from COVID that I know of. Our members are very reluctant about going back into the buildings,” she said. “The one thing [Goldson] said about six times in our meeting is, ‘I won’t send anybody back in the buildings until it’s safe.’ We are extremely happy with that.”
Dudley said an in-person instruction plan would be shared with the union in a few weeks.
School officials in the majority Black jurisdiction conducted a survey between Oct. 5-18 with about 68 percent expressing “discomfort” with allowing their children to return to the classroom in the spring.
The coronavirus pandemic also called COVID-19 caused school officials in other parts of Maryland to suspend in-person instruction and revert to virtual learning at home.
Dorchester County public schools, located on the Eastern Shore, Oct. 21 halted in-person instruction after just one week when it recorded the state’s third-highest positivity rate at 6.1 percent. The figure represents the number of tests taken that come back positive.
Because of a seven-day average with 15 new cases per 100,000 people, the Anne Arundel County school board voted last week to delay instituting the hybrid model of both in-person and distance learning for the second semester. Small-group instruction ended Friday, Nov. 6 for some students at a technology school and three development centers.
“In-person opportunities for our special needs and technology students are critical and that is why they were the first students we brought back into our buildings this fall,” Superintendent George Arlotto said in a statement. “The case rate is at such a point now, however, that the prudent thing to do in alignment with the health and safety metrics established by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health is to return to a virtual environment.”
St. Mary’s Public Schools posted an announcement on its Twitter page Sunday, Nov. 8 to inform parents and students “no in-person instruction for the week of Nov. 9-13, 2020” due to the increase rate of COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Larry Hogan expressed some frustration Thursday at a press conference in Annapolis urging residents to follow the basic guidelines: stand six-feet apart from each other in public spaces, telework when possible, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and avoid traveling to “hotspots,” or states with a positivity rate above 10 percent.
Most importantly, “just wear your damn mask,” he said.
About schools, Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon have encouraged school officials to “safely” bring students back to the classroom.
However, Hogan said county and Baltimore City officials can set local standards.
“Nobody was really pushing to fill up the schools, but there are special populations that just can’t do the distance learning and [school officials] were really trying to give it to kids who need it the most,” he said. “Many of the school systems will continue to be able to do that. Nobody is looking to fill the schools back up with the virus spreading around as it is.”
In the meantime, teachers and students will continue to see each other virtually through an iPad, or another computer device.
Dudley said teachers in Prince George’s are “brand new” this year in adapting and becoming proficient in various technology formats such as Zoom and Google classroom.
“It has pushed people to be even sharper. It’s been great. I have seen some wonderful lessons,” she said. “If we do stay out for the remainder of the [school] year, our educators are competent to keep things going.”