As Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County school systems welcomed students back to buildings this week, officials tracked the numbers of students, teachers and staff testing positive for COVID-19.
The three school systems were among the first in the region to reopen this week at full capacity even as some teachers and parents have fretted over the virus’ potential to spread in schools. Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford county school systems are scheduled to resume classes Sept. 8 following Labor Day and the Jewish new year Rosh Hashana.
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 cases in public schools around the region:
As of Thursday, the Baltimore City school system has performed contact tracing for 26 students and 12 employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Chambers said in an email.
While enrollment figures are not yet available for the 2021-22 school year, there were about 77,856 students enrolled in the system last year.
A representative of the Baltimore Teachers Union said the number of positive cases in city schools was “already too many.”
Educators felt anxious this week about case counts and worried that some mitigation strategies — such as social distancing — have eased compared to the previous school year, said BTU president Diamonté Brown.
“I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions about how we’re starting off the school year,” Brown said. “There’s a consensus on the fact that we all feel the school board and district leadership could have been better prepared. But at the same time, everyone is expecting us to bite the bullet and figure it out.”
The school system and the union began negotiations Friday over a possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate for teachers, Brown said, adding that the mandate should be paired with a maximum amount of mitigation strategies.
Baltimore County school system has reported 173 cases of COVID-19 in schools during the first week of school, according to a school system dashboard where some recent case counts were recorded for the week of Aug. 27 through Sept. 3.
Most positive cases in the state’s third largest school system, which served about 111,000 students last year, were found in the elementary grade levels, with 90 people testing positive for the virus. Another 42 cases were documented in high schools and 35 cases in middle schools. Six additional cases were recorded as “other.”
The dashboard indicates that the data was preliminary and subject to change.
School system spokesman Charles Herndon said during the first week of the school year that officials are continuing to “closely monitor and report all positive cases of COVID-19 that affect its students, staff, and schools.”
The union representing Baltimore County public school teachers and certificated employees learned of several instances this week when members tested positive for COVID-19.
Teachers Association of Baltimore County president Cindy Sexton described the cases Friday as “isolated.” The office of health services has performed contact tracing and notified the appropriate parties of cases, Sexton said, adding that educational plans have been put in place for students.
Howard County schools also welcomed students back to buildings this week. During that time, the system has performed contact tracing for about 75 students and 6 employees, according to system spokesman Brian Bassett.
More than 57,000 students were enrolled in Howard County public schools in the 2020-21 school year.