Carroll County public school students could be back in buildings for hybrid learning on Jan. 7 and winter high school sports practice will begin Dec. 14.
Carroll County Board of Education members voted unanimously during Wednesday’s meeting to set Jan. 7 as the tentative date to return to hybrid, assuming key metrics are back within Maryland State Department of Education guidelines. The school board will meet Jan. 4, discuss the county’s coronavirus case numbers and determine whether to send students back to in-person classes.
“I hope whatever decision we make then, we’re able to stick with it,” Devanshi Mistry, the student representative on the board, said.
She said morale and mental health among students is down and staff should make sure students will get the mental health support they need whether in hybrid or virtual.
Board members also discussed sending a survey to parents to ask if they would want students to continue with two-day in-person hybrid model or not. Board member Tara Battaglia referred to it as “re-registering.” “Please re-register for your desired option come Jan. 7,” Board president Donna Sivigny suggested it say.
Fellow board member Marsha Herbert said they should not do a survey and switching between hybrid and virtual learning should not be done every other day. She said it is not fair to teachers.
The survey motion was voted down unanimously.
Superintendent Steve Lockard recommended parents should give principals a two- or three-week notice before switching their in-person and virtual status.
“We still want to have some flexibility,” he said.
The board agreed to discuss it further at the next board meeting, Dec. 9.
Herbert made a motion to start winter sports Dec. 14. It was originally scheduled to start Dec. 7, but was recommended to delay until Dec. 14 at the last meeting.
“We have to move forward with this,” she said, noting the importance of sports to many high school students.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, an ex-officio member of the school board, said he thinks that’s problematic considering the current coronavirus metrics.
Herbert said she considers it a small group activity. And later noted the mental health concerns among high school students.
Michael Duffy, the supervisor of athletics, said Frederick County is the only public school system that is starting winter sports in December. He also noted that sports as a small group activity would not be equivalent to an academic small group setting, where social distancing could be utilized.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea, I don’t think it’s a great idea, but ultimately it’s your decision,” Ed Singer, the county health officer, said.
The board voted unanimously to start practices on Dec. 14, with health and safety restrictions. That would give Carroll the option to start basketball games and wrestling matches the first week of January. Duffy said regardless of when indoor sports would begin, the plan would be to have no fans in the gymnasiums.
Singer noted earlier in the meeting the school system had an outbreak. Carey Gaddis, spokesperson for the school system said it happened at Hampstead Elementary School’s autism program, who are still learning in person, where four staff members and one student tested positive for the virus.
Carroll County Public Schools suspended hybrid learning for all grade levels during the previous school board meeting. Some small groups in programs like such as career and tech students and special programs like the BELLS Program (Preschool Autism Program), BEST Program, Carroll Springs School, Post-Secondary Program and PREP Program (for 3- and 4-year-old students). Approximately 750 student are still attending school.
Frazier recommended at the time reevaluating “both ways” and the board agreed. So if numbers worsen, the school system can cut back on in-person learning for the special programs.
MSDE guidelines call for fewer than 15 cases per 100,000 population and a positive rate of 5% or lower before significant numbers of students should be allowed to return to classrooms. Carroll’s numbers announced by the Carroll County Health Department on Wednesday are 23.2 per 100,000 and 5.5%.
Carroll saw 269 total COVID-19 cases last week, the second-most the county has seen in a week but significantly down from the record 323 that were reported the previous week. Last week’s total could’ve been lessened by the fact that there was no testing at the county’s Carroll County Agriculture Center site on Thanksgiving Day, Singer noted Wednesday night.
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Sivigny and Herbert were sworn in as board members before the meeting on Wednesday after winning reelection in November.