Thousands of students will return to Anne Arundel County Public Schools for full-time in-person learning starting Sept. 8.
As concern about the delta variant rises, the school year will include some procedures meant to protect students and staff from COVID-19 and keep schools healthy. Anne Arundel County Public Schools Communications Director Bob Mosier and Deputy Superintendent Maureen McMahon answered some questions about procedure this year.
Information about AACPS operations this school year can also be found in the 2021 Reopening Report that was published on the system’s website this month.
Under what circumstances might my child need to stay home from school?
This could happen if your child tests positive for COVID, displays symptoms of COVID while at school or if they are identified as having been in close contact with someone who tested positive.
What happens if a student tests positive for COVID and reports it to school officials?
They will need to be isolated at home and stay out of school for 10 days.
What happens to people who have come into “close contact” with that student?
They will need to quarantine at home and stay out of school for 10 days, regardless of whether they test positive or not for the virus. People who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine after a close contact.
What is a “close contact”?
Generally, anyone who came within six feet of someone who tested positive for COVID for more than 15 minutes, within a 24-hour period, is a close contact.
Mosier said the CDC has an exception for indoor classrooms, however. If everyone is wearing a mask, the radius for a close contact drops from six feet to three feet. Anyone who was within three feet would still be considered a close contact.
Will all classrooms be able to put at least three feet between students?
Mosier said principals have told teachers to provide as much distance as possible between students, but acknowledged that because of space and the number of students in some buildings, keeping three feet of distance won’t be possible.
Do students have to wear masks?
Yes. On Aug. 26, the Maryland State Board of Education passed an emergency regulation requiring masks for all students and staff who are headed back to public school buildings across the state in the coming weeks. The rule will be in affect for 180 days.
Until the announcement Anne Arundel County’s approach for the fall was uncertain.
An announcement made by Superintendent George Arlotto at the start of August, which followed the advice of County Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman, said all students will need to mask regardless of vaccination status. Pasadena Representative Corine Frank had moved to make that optional instead, and the board had scheduled a vote on the matter Sept. 1.
What would change if students were to not wear masks?
The CDC’s exception shortening the distance that defines a close contact to three feet in classrooms only applies when masks are worn. Otherwise, the six foot distance will apply when contact tracers are tracking an individual. This would put officials in the same situation they faced when reopening schools in the spring, before the exception was created: there isn’t enough space in buildings to keep kids six feet apart. Not doing so risks a single infection causing multiple students in one class being forced into quarantine.
What happens if a student at school is showing symptoms of COVID, such as coughing, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches or loss of smell?
Students will be sent to the health office, which will then contact their guardian and ask them to pick up the child. Mosier said to return to school, the student will either need to provide a negative COVID test or a note with an alternate diagnosis from a medical professional.
Mosier said schools are asking parents to send medical information before classrooms reopen, so school nurses already have it handy. He said in the case of chronic illnesses, such as asthma, symptoms must represent a change from the baseline to prompt removal from class and a call home.
Rapid COVID tests will be available in health offices, and the student can get a test on campus before leaving, with parental consent.
When can the student return?
If a student tests negative they can return to school 48 hours after their symptoms have receded.
If a student isn’t tested for COVID after exhibiting symptoms, and no alternate diagnosis is offered, they will be considered a probable case of COVID and will need to stay out of school for at least 10 days.
Can students continue school from home?
Healthy students who are home due to COVID or a close contact can keep up with classwork using the learning management system Brightspace, along with take-home work.
Deputy Superintendent Maureen McMahon said each student will be assigned a virtual teacher who can help them with assignments, check-in on progress or answer questions. Students will have the chance to meet two times a day, for about an hour each with a virtual teacher for a sort of “office hour” on Google Meet, along with other students from their grade who are out on quarantine.
McMahon said they hope those groups don’t get full, but are prepared to scale up the operation if needed, adding more virtual teachers to work with students who are quarantined.
She said the maximum number of students in one meeting at a time would be similar to a regular class, between 20 and 30 students.
What can the virtual teacher help with?
McMahon said the virtual teacher positions will be staffed by long-term substitutes with experience, respectively, in primary education, intermediate education and secondary subjects like math and humanities who can answer questions about assignments. Staffing may change to include other teachers if it is necessary to scale up because of the number of children quarantined.
In middle and high school, students can split their meetings between different subjects, getting an hour of math help in the morning and an hour of humanities in the afternoon, McMahon said. Students can also double-up on a subject they’re struggling with.
Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.