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Educators report successful start to hybrid learning in Carroll County

Darryl Robbins, the principal at Robert Moton Elementary School, said the first two days of hybrid learning were “amazing.”

“I know you couldn’t see their faces from the masks," he said, "but you could see the smiles in their eyes.”

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Elementary and middle school students returned to Carroll County Public Schools buildings on Monday and Tuesday for the first time since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Maryland schools.

While there were reports of coronavirus-like symptoms that necessitated protocols to be put into action, county educators described it as a positive start to hybrid learning.

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Attending hybrid

Superintendent Steve Lockard said approximately 70% of CCPS students are participating in hybrid learning while 30% are remaining virtual.

Overall, 91.6% of Carroll students were present for in-person and virtual learning on Monday, according to Karl Streaker, the school system’s director of student services. He said 90.8% of elementary students were present on Monday, 93.9% of middle schoolers and 91.4% of high school students, who are learning fully virtually.

Streaker said pulling attendance numbers is tricky. Though they track all the students in the building for safety, each school building is not required to report an attendance count for in-person learners to central office. Instead, they report who is present virtually and physically. He said those numbers could go up as it takes a couple days to reconcile for students who, for example, forgot to log into Google Classroom. Tuesday’s numbers are not yet ready.

Lockard said he was not aware of any new positive coronavirus cases that stemmed from the first two days of in-person classes. But there were multiple people who showed symptoms.

Streaker said he could not identify all the schools where symptoms were reported, but parents were notified.

Lockard said they follow the protocols, developed with the health department, when dealing with symptomatic children or teachers. A child, care provider, educator or other staffer with COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath or loss of smell or taste, is removed from the building. Those who test negative can return when their symptoms improve.

Teaching cohorts

Hybrid students are split between A days and B days. A-day students attended in-person instruction on Monday and Tuesday while B students learned from home. The roles will reverse on Thursday and Friday. A few groups, like students who are children of staff members and some special education students, will attend all four days a week. Wednesdays are for cleaning.

“While teachers were excited to see their students, it is extremely challenging to manage students in two modes of learning concurrently with technology glitches in the mix,” Teresa McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association, said in an email.

Teachers who are in the buildings teach students in-person and virtual students at the same time. McCulloh said teachers are overwhelmed and exhausted from working 12 to 14 hours a day and six to seven days a week. She said they essentially have two jobs, which is unsustainable.

“They are preparing for synchronous and asynchronous instruction through computers and paper/pencil tasks,” McCulloh said. “In addition, they are answering an overabundance of emails related to hybrid learning, grading work two ways, and continuing to assist students with technology.”

The CCEA president said human resources has been accommodating with leave. However, she said communication could be better and requested Wednesdays change to asynchronous learning.

School board member Tara Battaglia said she thanks all the teachers for their hard work. Her first grader and seventh grader were happy and excited to be in school, she said. And she said other parents she spoke to said their children felt the same.

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Battaglia said her sophomore was anxious to return to the classroom and upset it didn’t happen on Oct. 19 as initially planned.

High school students were scheduled to also return to buildings on Oct. 19, but their date was pushed back to Nov. 12, the first day of the second quarter of the school year, after a Board of Education decision last week to delay their return due to lack of staff.

“As a board member, that was hard,” she said. “It was personal for me.”

She said she is hopeful the high schools will have all staff in place by the time high school students return. And Lockard said they are “actively working to make sure that on Nov. 12, we’ll be ready.”

While students work from home on Wednesday, the school buildings are undergoing significant cleaning, Lockard said. He visited a few school buildings this week and spoke to students and teachers who said they were happy to be back. He said later all the classes ran as scheduled.

Reporting successful results

Robbins said Monday and Tuesday were perfect and there were no coronavirus scares at Robert Moton. He also said it was amazing to see more students in the building again. They already had smaller groups return Sept. 14 and Oct. 8.

The elementary school principal said staff is focused on making social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks part of the school culture. The younger students are still working on social distancing, he said, but it’s a work in progress. Two-thirds of about 400 students are hybrid and one-third of students are virtual, he added.

Jamie Carver, principal of East Middle School in Westminster, said the first two days were successful and that students did a great job wearing masks and following procedures. He didn’t have the exact attendance count but as of Oct. 14, he expected 253 students in one hybrid cohort and 240, in another. Another 240 students were expected to stay completely virtual of the school’s 700 students.

Carver said there was one student who was not feeling well. She had more than one symptom, was sent to an isolation room and later picked up from school. Parents were alerted but no other students were affected or considered close contacts. Rooms and desks were disinfected, he said.

Three of East Middle’s 65 teachers are teaching from home, according to Carver, but he said they had enough staff to manage the in-person classrooms.

School system officials were asked how many teachers, countywide, taught in person vs. virtually during the first two days of hybrid learning, but CCPS did not produce that data by 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

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