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Here’s what Baltimore-area school systems are planning for back-to-school amid a COVID surge

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases resulting from the more contagious delta variant, several Baltimore-area public school systems will be welcoming students back to classrooms Monday for full-time instruction.

The systems’ pandemic safety procedures differ slightly. For example, Carroll County is the only district that isn’t offering COVID-19 testing for symptomatic individuals at each of its school buildings. Rather, that county has one centralized testing site. Baltimore City, which is requiring that students remain in fairly separate classroom “pods,” is the only district in the area offering pooled testing of asymptomatic individuals.

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The Maryland State Board of Education passed a universal mask mandate last week for all public school systems — though all districts in the Baltimore area besides Carroll County had already planned to require masks.

Find your county below to learn more about officials’ plans for fall 2021:

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Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Start date: Sept. 8

Are masks required?

All individuals are required to wear masks indoors unless they are doing strenuous physical activity or eating or drinking.

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Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12 years old?

The system is not requiring vaccination for eligible students or staff.

“We have had that discussion. We’re not there yet,” said school system spokesman Bob Mosier.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

Students who test positive and their unvaccinated close contacts must quarantine for 10 days. This time period cannot be shortened by a negative test. Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine unless they show symptoms.

In general, those determined to have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 total minutes over a 24 hour period within two days of the positive test are considered close contacts. However, in the classroom setting, students would need to be sitting closer than 3 feet apart to be considered close contacts, so long as they were wearing masks properly. This exception does not apply to staff.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

Students will complete assigned course materials asynchronously via Brightspace.

“We’re going to try to allocate at least one person in every school who’s going to check in with those students.” Mosier said.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

About 520 students in grades 3-12 were approved to enroll in the county’s Virtual Academy program, Mosier said. The program, which requires a full-year commitment, cannot be joined midyear. Applications closed June 10.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

The health room in each AACPS school has the ability to administer rapid COVID-19 tests for symptomatic students. Even if the test is negative, students must be symptom-free for 48 hours to return to school. Students need a negative COVID-19 test or an alternate medical diagnosis from a doctor to return.

The school system is in conversation with health officials about surveillance testing, or testing for asymptomatic students, Mosier said. Participation in that program would be up to parents, he added.

What is the plan for school lunches?

Students will be eating in cafeterias, often sharing the space with multiple classes or even grade levels at a time, Mosier said. Some schools in the system may assign seating for lunch in order to keep track of close contacts. In others, staffers plan to keep track of who sits where. Students will be required to wear masks at any time they are not eating or drinking.

“They want to take a bite of their hot dog? Take your mask down, take a bite of your hot dog, put your mask back up,” Mosier said.

Baltimore City Public Schools

Start date: Aug. 30

Are masks required?

All individuals are required to wear masks indoors at all times unless they are eating or drinking. Social distancing is required for unvaccinated people when outside, but students — even those who aren’t vaccinated — may remove masks.

Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12 years old?

Vaccination is not required. About 80% of city teachers and 90% of city principals are vaccinated.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

People who test positive and their unvaccinated close contacts must quarantine for 10 days. Vaccinated contacts do not need to quarantine unless they show symptoms.

Those determined to have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 total minutes over a 24 hour period are considered “close contacts,” starting two days before the positive test.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

A schools spokesperson did not have details about this as of Friday.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

Most students will return to classrooms, with a limited number of students eligible to participate in the virtual learning program. The application period for that program closed Aug. 3, and it has reached capacity. About 2,000 students, who were chosen because they performed well during online learning in previous semesters, will attend school virtually.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be organized into classroom pods that will stay together for in-person instruction throughout the school day. There should be minimal or no close contact between pods, according to the health and safety plan for city schools.

Students and staff in the pods will test themselves with nasal swabs weekly, and their samples will be tested as a group. That will begin during the third week of school because parents must sign a consent form first. If a positive test is discovered, everyone in the pod will be given a PCR test, and attend school virtually until the facts are known.

Symptomatic students will be tested on-site with rapid and PCR tests, before their guardians are called to pick them up from school.

Parents can opt-out of the surveillance testing program by completing a form from their school principal, but must have their child tested by another organization within 24 hours of when they were to be tested in school. Fully vaccinated students are not required to participate.

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What is the plan for school lunches?

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Students will eat lunch in their assigned pods, according to the health and safety plan for city schools. Food service staff can deliver meals to classrooms, but students may also eat in the cafeteria on a staggered basis with tables marked for social distancing. Air scrubbers have been installed in cafeterias to provide air filtration.

Baltimore County Public Schools

Start date: Aug. 30

Are masks required?

All individuals are required to wear masks indoors and on school buses unless they are doing strenuous physical activity or eating or drinking.

Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12 years old?

All employees in the system must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination before the start of the fall semester or submit to weekly testing.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

Students who test positive will be required to stay away from school for at least 10 days, or until symptoms have resolved.

Unvaccinated individuals who came into close contact with an infected person must quarantine 10 days from the last close contact, or 14 if they have a mask exception.

Those determined to have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 total minutes over a 24 hour period within two days of the positive test are considered close contacts.

However, in the classroom setting, students would need to be sitting closer than 3 feet apart to be considered close contacts, so long as they were wearing masks properly.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

Students on quarantine or isolation will be able to access work online through Schoology. Schools have resources to arrange after-school virtual tutoring to support students who are on quarantine/isolation, school system spokesman Charlie Herndon said in an email.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

The enrollment window for the county’s Virtual Learning Program closed July 2. New students enrolling in BCPS will be considered after that date, as will students with serious health concerns.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

School nurses will offer antigen and PCR testing to symptomatic individuals. In addition, BCPS is in the process of finalizing plans for screening of asymptomatic students and staff, Herndon said.

What is the plan for school lunches?

Although the plans will vary from school to school, administrators plan to use additional or larger locations for lunch in an effort minimize the number of students in one room at once, Herndon said. Students will be organized into pods for lunch to keep the number of close contacts to a minimum. Some schools plan to assign seats as well, particularly for younger students.

Carroll County Public Schools

Start date: Sept. 8

Are masks required?

Before the state school board passed its emergency rule requiring masks, Carroll had planned to make mask-wearing optional, except aboard school buses, where it is required for all.

The school system has not released further details about how their plans have changed in light of the school board decision. A special state legislative committee will vote on whether to approve the board’s emergency rule Sept. 14.

Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12-years-old?

The system is not requiring vaccination for eligible students or staff.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

Students who test positive may return to school when it has been at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared, their symptoms have improved, and they haven’t had a fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.

Those determined to have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 total minutes over a 24 hour period two days prior to the positive test are considered “close contacts.”

Unvaccinated close contacts can either quarantine for 10 days or show a negative COVID-19 test administered 5 days after exposure to return after one week. Fully vaccinated close contacts must wear a mask inside and outside when not participating in strenuous activity for 14 days, or until they can show a negative COVID-19 test administered at least three days after exposure.

It is unclear if these policies will change if the system must require masks under the state mandate.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

Students will be able to complete course materials asynchronously through Schoology or Google Classroom. Each school will have a “quarantine success coach.” This staff member will speak with quarantined students and families during the school day, and coordinate any needed academic or social-emotional support.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

CCPS is not offering a virtual option for the 2021-2022 school year, based on “limited interest system-wide,” according to the county’s recovery and return-to-learning plan. Families were able to express interest through the end of June.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

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The school system is operating one centralized testing site at Westminster High School. Testing will be voluntary.

In collaboration with the Carroll County Health Department, we have been discussing mobilizing to a school site if the need arises,” wrote school system spokeswoman Carey Gaddis in an email.

What is the plan for school lunches?

Lunch will be as it was prior to COVID-19, Gaddis said. If space allows, school staffers will distance students to the extent possible. Staff do not plan to keep track of seating during lunch, Gaddis said.

Harford County Public Schools

Start date: Sept. 8

Are masks required?

All individuals are required to wear masks indoors unless they are doing strenuous physical activity or eating or drinking. Outdoors, masks are to be worn if 3-feet social distancing is not possible.

Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12 years old?

Vaccinations are strongly encouraged but not required. After school fine arts activities and athletics will require weekly testing or vaccinations.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

Infected students and their unvaccinated close contacts will be asked to quarantine for 14 days while Harford County has a high COVID-19 transmission rate. In the classroom, the close contact definition excludes students who were 3 feet or more from each other. If a student is vaccinated, they will be exempt from quarantine as long as they are asymptomatic, although a test three to five days after exposure is recommended.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

Students will complete assigned course materials online asynchronously through itsLearning. Tutors are available upon request.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

The deadline to enroll in the county’s Swan Creek School Blended Virtual eLearning Program has passed. Families interested in enrolling during the school year will be added to a wait list.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

If students or staff develop symptoms during the school day, they will be offered a rapid and/or PCR test. Regardless of whether they accept, they will be sent home until they abate.

HCPS will also partner with a laboratory vendor to provide weekly screening testing in high schools for extracurricular athletics and fine arts programs.

What is the plan for school lunches?

The plan will vary by school, but cafeterias will be open for student dining. Plexiglass may be used to separate students but it is not required of schools.

Howard County Public Schools

Start date: Aug. 30

School system COVID-19 case dashboard: https://covid.hcpss.org/

Are masks required?

All individuals are required to wear masks indoors at all times unless they are eating or drinking.

Is vaccination against COVID-19 required for staff or students over 12-years-old?

All employees in the system must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination before the start of the fall semester or submit to weekly testing.

When are students and staff required to quarantine?

Unvaccinated close contacts must quarantine for at least 10 days, unless they receive a negative test after five days. In that case, they can end the quarantine period after seven days, as long as they continue monitoring symptoms for 14 days, and agree to isolate if symptomatic. Vaccinated students do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms or test positive. It’s recommended they get a test three to five days after exposure.

What will lessons be like during quarantine?

Students will complete assigned course materials asynchronously through Canvas. Students will have access to synchronous support during designated times of the week before or after school.

Is there a virtual option for students? Can they choose to switch to online learning at any point in the year?

The county’s Digital Education Center is available for students kindergarten through sixth grade, and offers live instruction online. The enrollment period is closed, but families who believe they have extenuating circumstances may apply online any time.

What COVID-19 testing will be offered?

If students or staff develop symptoms during the school day, they will be offered a rapid and/or PCR test. Regardless of whether they accept, they will be sent home for the day.

The student will be able to return to school once symptoms have abated with a negative PCR test result.

What is the plan for school lunches?

All schools will have outdoor dining spaces available to lessen the number of students in cafeterias. Schools have purchased additional tables to furnish outdoor eating areas and allow for maximum spacing inside. Where available, large tents have been purchased to shelter outdoor dining spaces. The system estimates some will be in place for the first day of school and others will come by September. The system also plans to purchase plexiglass shields to separate students in kindergarten through sixth grade at indoor cafeteria tables.

Elementary school students will be assigned seating for lunch time for contact tracing. Middle and high school students will be asked about their close contacts at lunch time if they test positive.

For more information: https://help.hcpss.org/

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