Bobbie Hoye and her husband praised the Tulip Grove Elementary staff for informing parents on hybrid instruction, social distancing in the classrooms, and other safety measures.

The couple from Bowie still chose to keep their nine-year-old son, Noah, a third-grader, at home to continue virtual learning on a computer for the final two months of the school year. Also, Noah’s 5-year-old sister, Riley, doesn’t attend day care and remains home with the family.

“With [school] being two days a week and we equated it to 22 days being in school, Noah’s in a groove,” said Hoye, the school’s parent-teacher organization president and an attorney who works from home.

“We have him on a schedule to keep some consistency. He is doing well and feels comfortable with the Zoom process, with the distance learning. While he doesn’t have many in-person visits with friends, he still has social connections with his friends through Zoom,” Hoye said.

The Hoye family is among thousands of Prince George’s County parents who chose to keep their children home as the county reopens school while continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson (right) holds a press briefing outside Tulip Grove Elementary in Bowie on April 8, on the first day of hybrid learning in the county. Standing next to Goldson is Raaheela Ahmed, a school board member who represents Tulip Grove. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson (right) holds a press briefing outside Tulip Grove Elementary in Bowie on April 8, on the first day of hybrid learning in the county. Standing next to Goldson is Raaheela Ahmed, a school board member who represents Tulip Grove. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Nearly 30,000 students in prekindergarten through sixth grade, high school seniors, and those enrolled in special education programs returned Thursday. The remaining 10,500 students in seventh through 11th grade plan to come back Thursday, April 15.

The school system has about 131,000 students enrolled this school year.

Although Noah isn’t physically in class, his teacher will record his attendance and watch and listen to him and his classmates through a computer screen in the classroom.

Teachers have the flexibility to conduct lessons with students in the classroom while the rest of the students are doing independent work.

Tulip Grove physical education teacher Michelle Wilson did both with a fifth-grade class that joined her while jogging in place, doing jumping jacks, and other exercises.

“Everybody that’s there [at home], can you hear me? Raise your hand if you can hear me? Ok, good,” Wilson said, looking at a screen inside the gymnasium.

Mia Linton, a 6-year-old kindergartner, shared Thursday’s excitement of P.E. and a reading teacher visiting her classroom.

“I was concerned about what the hybrid model might look like, but as vaccinations ramped up and more and more people got vaccinated, I became more comfortable about the idea,” said Mia’s mother, Christina Linton, a part-time bar instructor whose husband works for the U.S. Secret Service. “This is the most positive experience I could hope for given the circumstances.”

Bobbie Hoye said her son, Noah, has been doing well at home.

“He didn’t know how to multiply before third grade. He does now,” she said. “He made gains, and we look to build on his gains when he gets into fourth grade.”

Hoye and her husband plan to have their son and daughter, who will be in the kindergarten, in the classroom next school year at Tulip Grove, whether it’s “two days or five days.”

Safety measures

One day before hybrid learning began last week, some parents and community leaders marched and rallied outside Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, expressing concerns about adequate ventilation systems, vaccination of teachers, and students’ overall health.

Fifth grade students at Tulip Grove Elementary participate in physical education class with instructor Michelle Wilson (left) on April 8, the first day of hybrid learning in Prince George’s County. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Fifth grade students at Tulip Grove Elementary participate in physical education class with instructor Michelle Wilson (left) on April 8, the first day of hybrid learning in Prince George’s County. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The message for school officials: only open schools “when it is safe.”

One main reason stems from Prince George’s leading the state of Maryland in confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 80,000 positive cases reported to date.

About half of the 22,000 employees have been vaccinated.

PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson, who communicates with the county health officer every other day, said each school has hand sanitizer stations, new air infiltration systems, and desks spaced apart.

A question Goldson often receives from the school community: “Why conduct hybrid learning now instead of waiting until the fall?”

“Any amount of time in front of a teacher, no matter when it starts, is going to be a great experience,” Goldson said. “While it may seem late, it’s never too late for our students who are excited to be with their classmates and teachers in person today.”

Future plans

School officials haven’t produced specific plans for the future of the 2021-22 school year.

Results from a survey will be released at Thursday’s school board meeting on next school year’s proposed calendar. One of the questions to be addressed is when to start the school year: Aug. 30 or after Labor Day. Sept. 7.
The school board plans to conduct a final vote on April 29.

Neighboring school systems such as Montgomery County in Maryland, Arlington County in Virginia, and the District approved their school calendars to begin the first day of school on Aug. 30.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week she expects all the city’s public schools to conduct in-person instruction five days a week next school year.

School officials in Arlington County continue to work on plans to offer in-person and virtual learning for summer and fall.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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