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Some Anne Arundel students to return to special education centers, CAT North this week

Julia Michael said her family is happy to have their 17-year-old son, Aidan, return to the Ruth Parker Eason special education center Thursday for a two-hour instruction period, one of the first Anne Arundel County students heading back into classrooms since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

To start, Michael said her family will be taking baby steps as they ease back into a mode that requires both online learning and in-class experience.

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“He’s been joining the online classes for the third week now and he’s done well but it really takes a lot of juggling for our family,” Michael said.

Aidan will be among students at the county’s three special education centers and the Center for Applied Technology-North returning to buildings for limited instruction this week.

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At least 49 families agreed to bring their children back to the special education centers, Marley Glen, Ruth Parker Eason and Central Special, school officials said. Fifty-three staff members agreed to come back to the schools — including 12 special educators, school spokesman Bob Mosier said.

Staff at the school have been preparing to bring students back, too.

CAT-North Principal Joe Rose put together a video for his school community to help those who agreed to come back get used to the idea of being back but under the ramifications of a pandemic.

As of Thursday, 311 students from 10th to 12th grade signed up for in-person instruction and 14 classroom teachers will return, Rose said.

Classes have been reduced from the average of 16 to 20 to half the size and students will be socially distant with everyone required to wear masks, he said.

The school has marked traffic patterns, desks have either been removed or pushed to the side and students will enter and exit the building from the back.

Rose worked with school administration, staff and families to figure out balancing the current online schedule to adapt for a hybrid model, he said.

Students will be on a rotating schedule and the days they are not in class will complete weekly assignments posted to Google classroom, he said. Throughout it all, he wants his students and staff to be able to use the applied skills as that is the foundation of the center.

“The goal is to have them applying their learning,” Rose said.

Some of his teachers decided to not return, citing safety and health concerns, but others have asked to come back, he said.

“I’ve had multiple teachers since the beginning (of the semester) say, ‘Joe please help our students get back into the building — we need to teach our students hands on,’” Rose said.

Schools will go through routine cleaning to disinfect surfaces and areas before a new group of students arrives.

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At CAT-North, Rose said the building will be cleaned and sprayed down and teachers will be given cleaning kits with gloves and disinfectant. If someone has tested positive, the school will alert the Board of Education, school officials and the county Health Department.

Families also responded to a survey on transportation needs. The results were sent over to the transportation department to create routes to get students to and from schools.

Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said he won’t be surprised if more families agree to bring their children back to school as the centers settle into hybrid learning.

Before students get on the bus, parents are asked to do at home health screenings as recommended by the county health department and the CDC. Drivers and students are required to wear masks while on the bus and each seat will be occupied by one student unless the students come from the same household, he said.

Buses will also be cleaned three times a day, he said. The transportation plan was submitted for review and input by the county health department, he added.

“We’re the experts in transportation but they’re the experts in health and health-related safety so we wanted their wisdom as well,” he said.

Community members have weighed in with comments on the safety of returning to schools while others push for more students to go back to buildings.

Michael said she understood both arguments after first hearing special educators did not want to return to the special education centers.

“We want Aidan to go back but we also have concerns about him going back,” Michael said.

Though Aidan is not medically fragile, the family has opted out of vacations, ordered groceries delivered and stopped going out to eat, she said.

She and her husband talked about the benefits of having their son return to school and that the instruction is only for two hours, which helps reduce risk. She hopes the system’s return to in-person instruction can be a “pilot program” used as more students are able to return.

“We have to do this,” she said.

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