Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson (right) chats with a student outside Deerfield Run Elementary in Laurel on Sept. 8, the county's first day of school. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson (right) chats with a student outside Deerfield Run Elementary in Laurel on Sept. 8, the county's first day of school. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Akire Dunston walked beside her mother Wednesday strapped with a pink backpack, yellow and blue framed glasses, a black mask and a gleam in her eyes.

The third grader at Deerfield Run Elementary in Laurel summarized her return to class on the first day of school as “good.”

When asked if she enjoyed the hybrid learning experience last school year, the 8-year-old student said, “I love when it’s Friday because you don’t have to do all that work.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools students are expected to complete plenty of assignments in the 2021-22 school year in Maryland’s second-largest school system.

Erica Clinton (right) talks about feeling anxiety over her daughter Akire Dunston, 8, returning to the classroom at Deerfield Run Elementary in Laurel. The school year in Prince George’s County began Sept. 8. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

More than 110,000 students were scheduled to return to the classroom with another 12,000 elementary students slated to remain home and receive instruction online.

The main reason stems from youth younger than 12 being unavailable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced teachers, administrators and parents to readjust their schedules for students to come back in the buildings for five days a week.

Based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students will sit at least three feet apart and must wear masks or face coverings inside the buildings and outside for recess. Students may take them off when eating and drinking during lunchtime.

All buildings are expected to have hand sanitizer stations and the installation of 95,000 air filters. A second set is scheduled to arrive soon with another 3,000 air purifiers for classrooms without windows or access to fresh air.

One safety measure in elementary schools is a daily handwashing schedule estimated for every 30 minutes.

“I’m grateful that our staff has shown what we can do and pivot very quickly,” said PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson. “We figured that out in March 2020. Anything that comes our way, we’ll be able to handle.”

Parents stand in line to drop off their children at Deerfield Run Elementary in Laurel on Sept. 8, the county’s first day of school. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Unfortunately, Prince George’s faces a nationwide challenge in hiring bus drivers.

Goldson said bus drivers may travel double routes to get students home from school. For instance, a route that may take 15 minutes could double.

The school system and several individual schools posted a link online in search of more drivers. Salaries start at about $19 an hour.

To help offset the bus driver shortage, school officials asked parents to bring and pick up their children. Dozens of vehicles lined the streets near several buildings such as Deerfield Run, Rockledge and Arrowhead elementary schools.

“If anyone knows of people who want to become a bus driver, will we train you [to] get your CDL license,” Goldson said. “[Transportation] is the biggest issue around the country. That is what we are grappling with.”

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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