Carroll County’s Board of Education had plenty of questions about the reopening and recovery committee’s draft back-to-school plan, which they presented on Wednesday night. But first, the board heard from about 15 speakers from the public.
Several were Carroll County Public Schools teachers, who came out in force for the first time, many with reservations about what they were seeing in the draft. Others were advocates for reopening, parents of CCPS students and leaders of community organizations that work with kids.
The school system will get even more feedback when it sends out a survey to the school community asking specific questions about their comfort levels now that a draft plan is together. That is expected to be sent out before the end of the week.
At the meeting, the board acknowledged the impossibility of finding a solution for the coming school year that makes everyone happy, considering how fundamentally opposed people are on the topic.
The board must approve a plan and then submit it to the state by mid-August.
The meeting, including the board’s discussion and the full range of public comments will be archived on the CCPS Media YouTube channel.
Here are a few of the key arguments speakers were making during the meeting.
Pushing back on misinformation
In a previous public comment period July 8, more than one speaker stated that there was evidence kids are less likely or unable to get the virus and spread it to others. Several people pushed back on that claim Wednesday.
Brendan Gallagher, a biomedical sciences instructor at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, said the matter of transmissibility in children is far from settled in the public health field, and asked the board to listen to scientists rather than public comments on that matter.
Tom Scanlan, a recently retied CCPS teacher, thanked the committee for the countless hours they have put in. He said to the board, “You have an impossible task Whatever you do, someone will find fault.”
He asked them to listen to public health professionals, “not politicians with an agenda” and to not be “bullied by outside groups that present misleading info,” such as the incorrect claim that children are immune to the virus. He also asked for a comprehensive plan to assess all employees for whether they are high risk.
During the board’s discussion, Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer mentioned the outbreak of COVID-19 at Silver Oak Academy, a live-in school that is part of the Maryland correctional system. Many of the students had no symptoms or mild symptoms, he said, but it spread throughout students and staff in mid-May.
Comparison to safety drills
Before the spread of COVID-19, CCPS teacher Celeste Jordan used to make a dark joke during active shooter drills to ease her students’ anxiety. She told them that she was far more likely to die catching the flu from one of them than from an attack.
“Now it’s not as funny,” she said Wednesday.
More than one teacher said it would be dissonant to prepare students for fires, tornadoes and active assailant incidents, which have a low chance of happening, but return them to school when the probability of contracting COVID-19 is much higher.
Day cares and community groups want to help
Holly Berry, owner and operator of Berry Patch Early Learning Center in Hampstead, spoke about their experience keeping the center open throughout the onset of COVID-19. They had to adapt to constant changes and new guidance.
“All of these efforts were achieved by a positive staff and supportive families,“ she said. She asked the school system to get in touch and use what the child care centers have learned to help make the upcoming school year less challenging.
Katie Kirby, executive director of the nonprofit Together We Own It, proposed that organizations for youth like theirs could be a satellite resource for students struggling if “hybrid” or all-virtual models are in place in the coming school year. They support kids who are facing problems in their environment outside of school like homeleseness, violence or substance use.
Concern about social distancing and volume of students
Even with a “hybrid” back-to-school plan based on 50% of students being classrooms at once, teachers said they were worried because students would not be distanced while they are working for an extended period of time in their classrooms.
For some science rooms, where the tables are bolted down, students would only be able to stay about 18 inches apart, one speaker said.
Three teachers spoke about being caregivers for elderly parents who live with them. They were concerned with the amount of students they would see during a day, not to mention their fellow staff members at each building.
Ida Franklin, a music teacher of about 30 years, said there was no specific guidance yet for special area teachers, but with the amount of students she would see during a day, worried that special area teachers would become “the super spreaders of the school.”
As a caregiver for an older relative and a person with asthma herself, she said she won’t feel safe unless she has measures to protect herself like a plexiglass guard or personal protective equipment.
Parents worry about an abnormal schedule
Two speakers from the nonprofit advocacy group Return2Learn Maryland Schools spoke at the podium Wednesday.
Founder Christina Olson said that virtual learning for the fall semester is not “practical or equitable” based on the amount of COVID-19 cases requiring intensive care in comparison to the state’s population.
Low-income families without internet or device access are getting left behind and children who rely on school for supportive adults are struggling, she said, noting that children who need special education services haven’t received in-person education.
She suggested renting out empty spaces and businesses to give more space to spread out students.
One parent of a soon-to-be kindergarten student proposed that classes for kindergarten through second grade be held in person five days a week because children younger than the age of 8 cannot stay at home alone. She proposed that classes could isolate from one another to prevent spread.
CCPS parent Matt Coulter said he has worked throughout the shutdowns as an essential worker in the construction field. When considering who was an essential worker, “the most essential are our educators,” he said.
“I’m asking myself, ‘Why aren’t they being a hero for our children... They have an opportunity to shine right now and bring hope during a pandemic to those that have lost all hope.”
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Two of his young sons accompanied him, and one spoke at the mic, too. “I really miss class,” he said. “Students like me probably miss class a lot. Online learning is not our favorite. We want to be with our friends and be with a teacher to learn with.”