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Facing ‘really unprecedented times,’ Carroll County school officials detail plans for closure amid coronavirus

Carroll County Public Schools officials learned that the system’s schools would be closing down for two weeks at the same time the rest of the state found out from an address by Gov. Larry Hogan after 4 p.m. Thursday.

Although many details are still uncertain at this stage, the school system has been putting plans in place in anticipation of such a closure. Officials outlined those plans to the Times Thursday night.

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State officials announced Thursday afternoon that public schools would close for two weeks beginning Monday, keeping about 1 million children across Maryland home from school in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes and to save lives, Hogan said.

Superintendent Steve Lockard joined a 5 p.m. conference call with Maryland Superintendent Karen Salmon and superintendents from the other state school districts.

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CCPS began reaching out to families and employees in the same ways they would for a severe weather event: through phone calls, text messages, emails and posting on carrollk12.org and the official CCPS Facebook page.

“We will be communicating frequently over the course of the next two weeks,” Lockard said in an interview. “We’re going to be sharing additional information starting tomorrow, and throughout the period of closure.”

The first Carroll County case of the coronavirus was announced Friday afternoon.

As of Thursday afternoon, the coronavirus had resulted in 40 deaths in the United States out of almost 1,600 people who have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus a pandemic Wednesday.

On Friday, students will be given academic materials to review while schools are closed, though officials specified that these will not served as a direct substitute for curricula. Anticipating a possible closure, system officials began working more than a week ago to prepare online materials through Google Classroom and Microsoft 365, alongside more traditional materials for students who have less access to devices or internet.

“It really comes down to that, in some areas, as we get into more sophisticated content in our high schools, you know, we can’t expect kids to be learning without having proper instruction,” said Jason Anderson, chief academic, equity and accountability officer. “It’s more around maintenance at this time, rather than introducing new concepts.”

Lockard said, “As we think about the educational opportunities for students over the next couple of weeks, our schools are prepared to provide that to our students [Friday], and also to avail that to our parents and families.”

For CCPS staff during the closure, it is being treated in practice like a severe weather event, said John O’Neal, chief operating officer for CCPS. Instructional staff and 10-month employees who serve when students are there will also not work. In weather events, it’s expected that the days will ultimately be made up for.

“Other staff would work accordingly, and essential personnel know what to do,” O’Neal said. “Those are most especially the folks who would be cleaning the buildings anyway.”

If the closure stretches past two weeks, school officials will regroup and decide what to do going forward.

“We’re very much wanting to support any efforts to stem or stop the spread,” Lockard said. “So we’re going to do our part. But we’re also looking forward to getting back to — probably like everybody else — getting back to normalcy. ... We appreciate everybody’s patience and understanding as we kind of go through what are really unprecedented times here.”

Individual school principals made the decision to cancel some school events Thursday night on the basis that they went against the state directive to avoid large gatherings of people. After dismissal Friday, there will be no after-school activities, either school sponsored or those held on school property by outside groups, Chief of Schools Cindy McCabe said.

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While the schools are shut down statewide, each individual system is working on a plan to provide meals to students who rely on the Free and Reduced Meals program, with guidance from the state. For CCPS, this means building on the structure of an existing service for summer meals. O’Neal said the state is giving guidance to school systems, and they expect the state will work out reimbursements and some waivers.

“That’s something we’ve been thinking about anyway and working towards planning and having ready,” O’Neal said Thursday evening. They hope to have more specific details Friday.

During the closure, buses and CCPS buildings will be cleaned and disinfected. CCPS officials were beginning work on a schedule for staff Thursday night. O’Neal said, “Not having the schools in session allows us to utilize our maintenance and operations team more effectively to get through all the schools in a more thorough way.”

CCPS officials have been talking with the system’s bus contractors over the past several days already, “sharing appropriate information with them and making sure they’re up to speed on cleaning and disinfecting buses,” O’Neal said.

“If we get additional or different guidance, we’ll make sure that’s shared with them and very clear,” he added.

Thursday’s school closure announcement was made in a week when colleges, senior centers and other gathering places have closed in attempts to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Maryland officials announced on Thursday the first case of the coronavirus contracted through community spread. This means the disease was spread to the patient through the local community rather than from traveling outside the country or state.

In some cases, this means that the disease is spreading among community members undetected by testing.

The full text of the school system’s message to staff and families is below:

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Under the direction of State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, all Maryland public schools, including Carroll County Public Schools, will be closed beginning Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27. Schools will re-open on Monday, March 30. All CCPS and non-CCPS sponsored activities in our school facilities will be canceled

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This action is being taken in all Maryland public school systems as a preventative measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus and out of an abundance of caution. The safety and well-being of students and staff continue to be our top priority.

We will be sharing additional information with you tomorrow and throughout this period of closure. In the meantime, we encourage you to review the information and tips on our website for keeping you and your family healthy. And, we can’t stress enough the importance of practicing the preventive measures we have outlined in previous communications. These measures can also be found on our website.

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we work through this challenging time.

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