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School board votes for Carroll County students to return to hybrid learning

The Carroll County Board of Education voted, 4-1, Monday night to return to hybrid learning on Thursday, frequently citing failing grades in the first quarter as a motivator. Board member Patricia Dorsey voted against it.

“Our students desperately need to return to a normal educational experience,” Board President Marsha Herbert said via email after the meeting. “Moving to the hybrid model is a very important step in that direction.”

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Board members agreed at a previous school board meeting to use Jan. 7 as a tentative date for Carroll County Public Schools to resume hybrid learning, which gives all students the opportunity to attend school in person twice each week. But the board set up a special meeting for Jan. 4 to review the current COVID-19 case numbers and discuss the situation before committing to the hybrid restart.

Some 26 members of the public, many of them teachers and/or parents, health experts brought in for their opinion, the superintendent of schools and a county commissioner all participated in the discussion.

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“Quite frankly, we’re at the worst point we’ve been in the pandemic,” County Health Officer, Ed Singer said during Monday night’s meeting.

Singer said the positivity rate on Monday was the highest it’s been since April at 8.5%.

He brought on Garrett Hoover, president and COO of Carroll Hospital, who spoke of the strain the hospital is facing when it comes to bed availability in units like critical care. Hoover said Carroll handled the first wave of COVID-19 well.

“But the second wave has really hammered us,” he said.

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Hoover added that some surgeries have been delayed because of the hospital overflow. Dorsey said that’s something she’s witnessed with a family member.

Herbert asked school officials to review the number of failing grades given to students. More than five times as many failing letter grades, approximately 6,000 more F’s, were given out during the quarter that ended Nov. 11 compared with the first quarter from the 2019-20 school year. And nearly 11,000 fewer A’s were earned.

Superintendent Steve Lockard said he wrestles with concerns for grades and concerns for community spread.

“I look at these grades, it makes me sick to my stomach,” he said, adding teachers are doing the best they can.

However, he noted community cases are expected to show a post-holiday spike, as Singer and Hoover had noted earlier.

Lockard later said his recommendation is to “wait a little bit longer” before returning to hybrid.

His recommendation was echoed by Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, ex-officio BOE member, who added that CCPS should consider adopting a policy similar to that of some private schools and require a negative COVID-19 test before a student can return to school buildings.

Ken Kiler, board vice president, made the motion to return to hybrid learning and to not revert unless directed by the state. In his prepared statement, he noted states that have opened its schools, Maryland’s and Carroll County’s numbers in comparison to surrounding jurisdictions and the number of failing grades.

“We need to stop the bleeding,” he said.

Dorsey said on Monday when the board agreed to meet Jan. 4, that they had also agreed they would view case numbers before moving forward with hybrid learning.

“The numbers are really bothering me right now,” she said, also noting consistency is a concern.

Fellow board member Donna Sivigny said she respects the metrics but noted students are not learning effectively. She said, it’s “untenable” that public schools are closed but daycares and other public places are not.

Fellow member Tara Battaglia called it “education discrimination” and an “economic disadvantage” for those who can afford to send their kids to in-person learning in private schools, but those who cannot afford it miss out face-to-face instruction.

She said she is concerned about the vulnerable population dealing with the health effects of the virus, but she is also concerned about vulnerable students who are struggling with virtual learning, academically and mentally.

Devanshi Mistry, the student representative to the board, said students want to be back in the classroom.

“However, I am a bit concerned about the second wave,” she said.

Herbert said in her emailed statement that the board believes the move to hybrid this week is in the best interest for students. She noted the virtual learning model is not working for students and the board is aware of inequities online instruction presents.

The board president also noted parents have a choice to send students back to in-person and that the vaccine is on its way.

Twenty-six participants spoke at the beginning of the meeting. Most were parents who cited low mortality rates among children, low grades, opinions of national and state leaders and mental health, to name a few, as reasons to vote in favor of hybrid instruction.

Parents in Carroll also started an online petition. It was created by the organization Moms Who Want Schools Open, and demanded the resumption of hybrid learning in Carroll.

“Parents should be given the option to send their children to school,” the petition states. “Prolonged school closures have a clear negative impact on children’s health, education and development, family income and the overall economy.”

The petition had more than 800 signatures as of Monday morning.

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