Carroll County’s public high school students will be able to begin hybrid learning as planned Thursday. But if the number of COVID-19 cases in the county and its positivity rate haven’t dropped back into a safer range, hybrid learning is likely to be suspended next week.
The Board of Education voted unanimously at Wednesday’s meeting that Carroll County Public Schools continue with the hybrid model for all levels through Tuesday, that the board will meet again Wednesday, Nov. 18, and that if COVID-19 numbers have not improved, the county will return at that time, system-wide, to limited in-person instruction, or none at all.
The “B” cohort of high school students are able to go in-person on Thursday and Friday; the “A” cohort on Monday and Tuesday. Elementary and middle school students returned in hybrid fashion on Oct. 19. But the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Carroll County has roughly tripled since then.
“I certainly would not recommend bringing the high schoolers back tomorrow," Ed Singer, county health officer, said during Wednesday’s board of education meeting.
He said later, "There’s no way that I can advise you that this is a good idea.”
He said if high schools open back up, he and his staff will not be able to keep up with contact tracing. They are struggling to keep up as is, he said, and the school system would be on its own with the task.
Only one in-school transmission has been documented. Singer said data shows a spike in cases come from sporting events, Halloween activities, birthday parties and other large gatherings. He later added there were nine cases that stemmed from a high school party.
Board member Tara Battaglia, asked Singer if they could wait until next Wednesday before making a decision on high schoolers in hybrid. She said it is not fair to students when the data shows the spike in cases come from the outside community. And cohorts A and B having at least two days each would be better than nothing.
Battaglia said she is also worried about mental health issues for high school students and fears extending virtual learning will make it worse.
Devanshi Mistry, student representative of the school board, said delaying hybrid learning for high schoolers the day before they are expected to return would be “an immense disservice to students," but the case numbers are “extremely worrying.”
She asked Singer if there was a partial opening plan he would recommend. But Singer said he does not think there’s a model out there that would help.
Wednesday’s board meeting had four people speak during public participation and all requested to delay hybrid learning for high school students or to pause hybrid learning for all.
Maryland State Department of Education guidelines state that schools should reassess its openings if the new case rate increases an additional two case per 100,000 within two weeks or if there is a positivity rate increase of 1.5% within two weeks. School board members agreed to follow this guidance in a previous meeting.
However, they have surpassed those numbers since the last school board meeting Oct. 19.
Maggie Kunz of Carroll’s health department said during the week of Oct. 18 to 24 the weekly average for cases per day per 100,000 was 5.5. It rose to 8.6 the following week. And again to 12.7 during the week of Nov. 2.
Singer said Wednesday night it would likely surpass 15 by Thursday.
As cases for COVID-19 see an increase in Maryland, school systems around the state have already made adjustments. Baltimore City schools have scaled back the number of school buildings it will reopen from 44 to 27. Anne Arundel County closed all its in-person classes for small groups of students Friday, delayed the start of a wider expansion of classes, and announced Monday that it will suspend athletics.
Harford County Public Schools will be sending most students and teachers home at the end of this week to resume virtual learning after new coronavirus cases in the county spiked to their highest levels since the pandemic began there.
Maryland has begun reporting its coronavirus cases within the schools around the state. A dashboard shows Gerstell Academy in Finksburg reported three positive cases on both Nov. 5 and Nov. 11. And Robert Moton Elementary school reported two cases on Nov. 11.
Latest Carroll County Education
The health department and CCPS announced last week the school system’s first outbreak, or the first time someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 transmitted it to another person within the school, at Robert Moton’s special education program, which was temporarily closed. Earlier this week, the school system announced three more special education programs were temporarily closed at Winfield Elementary School, Liberty High School and Mount Airy Middle School.