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'We want some standardization’: Teachers union asks Maryland for more information on coronavirus cases

Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said the state’s decision to let local school systems and health departments determine what case information to share with teachers, staff and parents could jeopardize the safe and sustainable reopening of schools. Baltimore Sun Media
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said the state’s decision to let local school systems and health departments determine what case information to share with teachers, staff and parents could jeopardize the safe and sustainable reopening of schools. Baltimore Sun Media (Paul W. Gillespie)

The union representing more than 74,000 educators in Maryland asked officials on Monday to release standardized procedures to handle coronavirus cases in classrooms across the state and be transparent about infections at schools.

The president of the Maryland State Education Association, Cheryl Bost, said the state’s decision to let local school systems and health departments determine what case information to share with teachers, staff and parents could jeopardize the safe and sustainable reopening of schools. She said schools can balance privacy and transparency by sharing with educators where there is a case without disclosing the name of the ill student or staff member.

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“I know that with the teachers here, the grapevine provides more of that information where people are finding it out through people talking to each other, but it’s not coming out publicly that there’s a case in this school or there’s a case in that school,” Bost told reporters during a virtual news conference. “So we want some standardization on what is reported, to whom, the timely manner, and how are we handling those cases. Not all of our schools have nurses, not all of them have places to isolate when there’s a positive case that comes to the school building.”

The union also released a survey of 2,317 of its members that showed 77 percent think it is unlikely their schools will safely reopen for full, in-person classes over the next several months. The survey also showed that educators overwhelmingly support coronavirus-related safety measures including daily sanitization of schools, mandatory use of masks and reduced class sizes to maintain social distancing.

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The state on Monday reported that its COVID-19 cases have added up to 140,844; that’s 565 more than a day earlier. The state also reported a total of 3,953 deaths.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maryland has risen over the past two weeks from 581 new cases per day on Oct. 11 to 660.29 new cases per day on Sunday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in the state has risen over the past two weeks from 2.3% on Oct. 11 to 2.47% on Sunday.

All of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions began the school year with online instruction. Nineteen school systems have now opened schools for small-group classes or the start of a hybrid model.

Education officials stressed that virtual learning cannot fully replace in-person instruction, especially for low-income, special-education students, as well as those vulnerable to abuse. To date, 19 school systems have opened schools for small group instruction or the start of hybrid instruction.

State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon stressed Monday during a meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education that remote learning cannot replace in-person classes and encouraged local officials to return students to schools.

“One might make the argument that any risk is too great and that schools must be completely safe before local school systems move towards any in-person instruction,” Salmon said in a statement. “But this approach disregards the enormous costs to children from keeping school buildings closed.”

The board on Monday voted to allow winter high school sports at public schools across the state to start Dec. 7. The pandemic forced schools to stop athletic programs in March.

The board’s decision will allow three seasons for the rest of the school year. Competitions for winter sports will run from Jan. 4 through Feb. 13. Fall sports will start Feb. 13, and competitions will end April 17. Spring sports are scheduled to kickoff April 17 and conclude June 19.

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