Carroll school board votes to move forward with reopening, expects to return to five days of in-person learning in fall

The Carroll County Board of Education voted Wednesday night to send an updated return-to-school plan that would double the amount of in-person learning for most students to the state’s education department for approval, with the student board member abstaining.

The Carroll County Public Schools plan to begin returning students to school buildings at least four days per week, recognizing that previous levels of social distancing likely won’t be possible, was discussed Wednesday night at an “updates” school board meeting. The board had voted Feb. 10 to allow students to return to in-person learning at least four days a week by March 22.


Using a phased-in approach, the plan is to allow Gateway and Crossroads students to return full time on March 1, elementary students to return four days a week on March 15 and all other schools, including the Career and Technology Center, to return March 22. Special education students have already begun phasing in this week. Elementary students will be asynchronous March 11 and 12 to give time for furniture to be adjusted. And secondary students will be asynchronous March 18 and 19.

Full virtual learning will still be an option and parents will be surveyed to see how many will participate in in-person learning.


The board also announced at the end of the meeting that next school year, the plan is for all schools to be open five days each week from the first day of school on Sept. 8, for those who choose to attend.

As more kids enter school buildings, more spectators will attend fall sports games. Mike Duffy, supervisor of athletics, said the public can now attend outdoor games but it must be limited to 250 spectators. When it comes to soccer and junior varsity football games, two tickets will be given to each home team athlete and two tickets to each visiting team participant. Varsity football games, keeping in mind the cheerleaders and bigger audiences, will allow for two tickets per home team player and the ones left over will be for the visiting team.

“Sideline passes” or lanyards will be given to the two spectators accompanying each Field hockey, cross country and golf athlete. Cameras in the stadium are being updated to stream games for those who could not attend and the system and ticket sale procedures are being adjusted to eliminate the use of cash.

CCPS has been in hybrid mode since Jan. 7, allowing most students to have in-person learning twice a week.


Early in the meeting, Ed Singer, county health officer, recommended that the board hold off on opening the schools full-time for a few more weeks.

He said according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Carroll is not far off from being in the moderate level of community transmission, 10 to 49 cases per 100,000, but they are not there yet, currently at 60.5. And guidance suggests school systems in high risk should be in hybrid mode.

“I’m just concerned that when we start putting more students closer together, the number of people out in quarantine and isolation is going to grow,” he said.

Singer said the department of health suggested the school system stick to CDC guidance and having less than 6 feet between one another would not comply with the guidance.

Board member Ken Kiler said the system does not plan to return students “tomorrow,” but in the next few weeks, and fellow member Donna Sivigny said based on the downward trend in community cases, Carroll should reach where they want to be by March 22.

“I’m more concerned about staffing issues than I am with health issues,” Kiler said later. “We can’t let the fear of health overcome the fear of 18 to 20 months of recovery learning.”

Kiler pointed out later that while Carroll is ahead of the curve in Maryland for getting students back into schools, Maryland ranks last in the nation in terms the percentage of students learning in person.

When the board voted to return students to hybrid learning Jan. 4, failing grades were often cited as a reason to do so. They learned that during the first quarter, students were more than five times as likely to receive a failing grade as they were the year prior. And during the second quarter, 3,313 students received at least one F. While 2,939 students received at least one F during the first quarter. Last school year, 952 students received at least one F during the second quarter.

Staffing was cited as a concern when hybrid learning restarted at CCPS in the first week of January and was referenced again at the Feb. 10 meeting before the board voted to return more students.

Jon O’Neal, chief of operations, told the board Wednesday night that 44 teachers were hired since October, the month they started hybrid learning for the first time, and there are now 23 vacancies. The system hired 20 instructional assistants since October, and now have 62 vacancies. The last applicant pool contained five qualified candidates. There are 98 vacancies for student support assistants though 108 were hired in since the fall. And 18 vacancies for facilities plant operation staff. Six of those positions were filled under a service contract.

“The truth is we simply haven’t been able to continue to hire at a level to outpace the attrition we’ve experienced in many, many categories,” O’Neal said. “And that’s what put the pressure on coverage and supporting programs.”

CCPS has used volunteers and staff from central office to monitor classrooms due to lack of teachers and assistants.

A draft of a revised reopening and recovery plan, first created in July 2020, is available on the CCPS website and a PowerPoint states it includes amendments to the executive summary, instructional schedules, social distancing and references a new CDC school operational strategy.

O’Neal said during the meeting they are not sure when MSDE will sign-off but noted “time is of the essence.” He told them about today’s meeting and what possible changes to expect.

He noted that buses will only hold 21 people with one per seat and eight students for the special education buses.

Staff reported maintaining social distancing in classrooms, cafeterias, school buses and the Carroll County Career and Technology Center will be a challenge as well as staffing.

Challenges with the Career and Technology Center that included eating in the cafeteria where social distancing will be an issue and removing Wednesdays as a virtual day. Betsy Donovan, principal of the tech center, also noted the more people in class could risk more people testing positive and quarantining. It could lead to missing a significant number of classes that would be “detrimental” to students.

“What do you need from us?” Sivigny asked. “How can we make it happen to knock down those barriers?”

Staff suggested keeping Wednesdays virtual for tech students.


Marsha Herbert, board president, described the report on the tech center as a “negative report.”


“We have strived to get those kids back in school,” she said adding to tell them what they can do to help.

“Respectfully, no one is trying to be negative,” Superintendent Steve Lockard said, adding that staff is only reporting what the challenges are.

Herbert said later she, “maybe should’ve used another word.”

The board later agreed to allow Wednesdays to remain virtual for some special education programs so classrooms can be cleaned.

In the amended reopening plan draft, the phrase “recommendations of 3 to 6 feet” was crossed out in a section about staff guidelines. The new sentence states “During instruction, staff will wear a cloth face covering and maintain social distancing as much as possible.” And “students will be distanced as much as space permits during meals” was added in a section about food services.

Additional sentences were added and crossed out to reflect less strict social distancing guidelines.

“Students will be distanced from each other as much as space allows. However, when operating with schools open for all students in person 4 or 5 days per week, strict CDC social distancing guidelines cannot be practiced in classrooms, cafeterias and other school areas,” the revised reopening draft states.

The line was later changed in the meeting to read “social distancing will be practiced to the greatest extent possible.”

The CDC’s “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation” plan, cited frequently in the draft, states physical distancing “at least 6 feet” should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.

“To ensure physical distancing, schools should establish policies and implement structural interventions to promote physical distance of at least 6 feet between people,” CDC webpage states. “Cohorting or podding is recommended to minimize exposure across the school environment.”

It also states all schools have the option to provide in-person learning at any level of community transmission “either full or hybrid” with strict mitigation strategies. It also states in-person instruction should be prioritized and populations at risk for learning loss during virtual learning should be prioritized for in-person instruction. The CDC lists testing, screening and vaccinating staff as soon as supply allows as ways to prevent COVID-19 in schools.

Cindy McCabe, chief of schools told the board the school will implement COVID-19 testing for students and staff. Lockard said they are looking to offer rapid and PCR tests at regional schools, so if a person shows symptoms, they can be sent to another building, take a test and wait for results.

Teresa McCulloh, president of Carroll County Education Association, said in a letter to the Times that many CCPS staff want to return to the building but do not want to sacrifice their health or the health of their families.

“We need more doses of vaccine,” she sated. “We need to adhere to safety protocols and pandemic mitigation strategies, and moving ahead without those is unacceptable. The Carroll County Education Association will continue to fight for educator and student safety.”

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