xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Carroll County to expand in-person learning; all students could return 4 days per week, some all 5 by March 22

Carroll County Public Schools plans to allow students to attend in-person classes for at least four days a week by early spring.

After multiple parents asked Carroll County’s Board of Education to open the schools fully, board members voted to phase students back into the classroom by March 22.

Advertisement

The board agreed the plan is contingent upon having it approved by the state and also agreed to meet Feb. 24 to lay out the details.

But for now, the board voted unanimously to open five days a week, using a phased-in approach, to students who attend the Career and Technology Center, Gateway and Crossroads, Carroll Springs, and four days a week to the rest, who will be phased in after, starting with elementary schools. Students in special education programs will be phased in over the next few weeks.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Wednesday will continue to be a virtual learning day, and families will continue to have the option to exclusively learn online. The plans are subject to approval by the Maryland State Department of Education. A request for comment was not returned by MSDE as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

A dozen people spoke at the beginning of the board meeting Wednesday night. Several were parents who thanked the board for returning to hybrid learning the first week of January after nearly two months of virtual learning. But they asked for more.

One parent said her second grader was not getting an equitable education compared to those attending school in-person more than two days a week, including the children of Carroll public school staff who are allowed to attend four days a week to help with staffing. Another parent called it discrimination.

“This level of risk is appropriate given the fact that teachers are being vaccinated,” another parent said, adding that case numbers are trending down.

Advertisement

Ed Singer, county health officer, said during the meeting that vaccinations are still a challenge given the low amount of doses they receive and that the vaccination links are being shared with people who are not in the priority group nor live in the county. The most the health department has been given by Maryland for a week was 1,500 doses, and the lowest was 800.

He said they made progress and are close to vaccinating half the CCPS staff. However, the health department’s focus is on adults 75 and older.

Superintendent Steve Lockard announced during the meeting that the school system would start allowing students in special education programs to attend school four days a week.

Nick Shockney, director of special education, told the board the phase-in will begin in the next two weeks for those in middle and high school. Then they will move onto elementary students by the end of February. If all goes well, he said, they will try to bring in the 200 students who receive special education services with a Least Restrictive Environment Code, or LRE, of B and C by early March if parents allow.

Shockney said there are 312 students who attend the special education programs and he does not have the exact number of students who would be attending the four days.

Board member Donna Sivigny asked Shockney about social distancing and noted 6 feet apart is a suggested distance and not a requirement. Shockney said they try to keep staff at least 6 feet apart and students 6 feet apart from other students, but noted some services require staff to enter the student’s “bubble.”

Board member Tara Battaglia mentioned bringing in other students with IEPs, English Language Learners and career and tech students before Lockard addressed distancing throughout the system.

He said they are doing the best they can but some classrooms had students spread less than 6 feet apart. He said social distancing is one of the big mitigation strategies and that less people can keep their distance if more people are in attendance.

“To be honest with you, I have concerns about not being able to meet these recommendations,” Lockard said about keeping 3 to 6 feet apart. He added that if they decided to bring back more students than what Shockney suggested, they would need approval from the Maryland State Department of Education and is unsure how long that would take.

Singer said they have been fortunate the system only had a handful of outbreaks but bringing the full student body back would be “problematic.” He said he is not sure how to maintain 3 to 6 feet apart in a full classroom.

“I really think going down to less than 3 feet, I would find that to be unacceptable,” he said.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, mentioned the decision at the commissioners meeting Thursday morning, questioning how social distancing can be implemented and noted how younger kids do not always keep a mask on.

“I think all the teachers and staff should be vaccinated before that happens,” he added.

He said he would like to see a plan before they move forward and commissioners should request one.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who has attended the last couple of school board meetings, said the plan was not set in stone.

Sivigny noted later that there will still be a virtual cohort so classrooms would not be as full all around.

Board member Ken Kiler made a motion, reading from his notes, to open fully on or before March 8 to students in special programs and four days a week to the rest. It would later be tweaked.

Lockard noted his concern with transportation and doubling the size of classrooms at the Career and Technology Center that are already full. He also spoke about staffing challenges due to quarantine and resignations.

The system has 62 vacancies for instructional assistants and 108 vacancies for student support assistants. Chantress Baptist, director of human resources, said at the meeting they hired 157 substitute teachers since Oct. 1, but some have resigned.

Lockard said they have been making it work. Central office staff have been filling in at some classrooms and the board later approved a contract with a temp agency that would, best-case scenario, supply 30 people by April.

Battaglia recommended bringing in students in phases and student member Devanshi Mistry as well as board member Patricia Dorsey, agreed.

After much back and forth, with Kiler and Sivigny pushing for the board to agree on a date before having a meeting to specify the details, Battaglia noting her concern of teachers’ workload and a few changes to Kiler’s original motion, the board agreed to phase in students by March 22 and to have more discussion Feb. 24.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement