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‘Open the damn schools’: Parents call for return to in-person learning in Carroll County Public Schools

Some parents are unhappy about online-only learning in Carroll County Public Schools and several did not hold back in sharing their frustrations with the school board.

Six parents who spoke during the citizen participation portion of the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night urged board members to open schools and cease virtual learning, citing mental health concerns for their children, their struggle to work and monitor online classes at the same time and the decline in student performance when compared with in-person learning.

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Billy Gorman told board members they should listen to health experts who say kids should be in schools and noted State Superintendent Karen Salmon said the same.

“I’m just a pissed-off dad here to say I pay taxes, I vote, open the damn schools,” he said.

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Gorman also listed a few states who have students attending in-person instruction as well as private schools in the area that are doing the same. He said there is a difference between the private and public sector.

“If the private sector doesn’t go to work, we don’t eat, we don’t feed our family,” he said while beating on his chest. “If the public sector doesn’t go to work, the teachers union is going to come to you next year and ask you for a raise.”

Gorman said families are leaving Carroll County Public Schools because private schools are offering in-person learning. He said they would have done the same, but many of the private schools in the area are full.

Of the now 785 students who did not re-enroll in CCPS this year, 427 transferred to homeschooling and 358 enrolled in private schools, according to Cindy McCabe, chief of schools.

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Gorman’s wife, Amy Gorman, spoke after him to say her desire to have her kindergartner learn in person is not because she is tired of raising her child.

“I’m tired of hearing that BS comment out of people’s mouths,” she said.

Amy Gorman, who said she has a degree in elementary and special education, said the hours of screen time can cause emotional and physical tolls on students and children are missing out on character building and social skills that come with being in the classroom.

“An in-person education is the foremost and basic right of every child,” she said. “So open our damn schools for every child’s future.”

Teresa McCulloh, president of Carroll County Education Association, said during the meeting there is a difference between listening and hearing. And members said they are being heard but not listened to. She said teachers want to be with their students but only when it is safe.

McCulloh added “we are extremely concerned for those employees” working in specialized programs since the summer who were not given a choice but to teach in person.

“We totally understand that students have [individualized education program] goals, but the safety and risk delivering these goals, remain questionable,” she said.

McCulloh said perhaps safety in specialized programs would be addressed during the meeting.

Similarly, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting whether the board would talk about winter sports or about the small groups learning in person while the rest of students are learning virtually. The ex-officio member of the board said last week that special education teachers are concerned about their safety when dealing with students who cannot wear a mask and need hands-on assistance.

Board member Donna Sivigny said the board was not planning to discuss topics that were already voted on. Last week, the board voted to allow small groups to continue in-person learning, to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 7 if the number of COVID-19 cases in Carroll County have decreased to levels in line with Maryland State Department of Education guidelines and approved winter sports to start Dec. 14.

Belinda Lawson, who said she’s an administrator for a Facebook group for moms in Carroll, said about half of the nearly 5,000 COVID-19 deaths in Maryland, the one statistic the board should focus on, were those over the age of 80.

“These kids are suffering on a psychological level each and every day,” she said. “I know they’re healthy, I know they’re home, I know they need to be in school.”

The three other moms who spoke all called for in-person learning.

Jamie Hanlon, whose child was holding a green sign outside the board room that said “open the darn schools,” said she moved from Montgomery County to Carroll for the schools but is sad to see her children are not receiving any benefits. She thanked board members for keeping special education programs open.

Tasha Graham, a parent of four, said she was there to urge the board to return to “normal schooling” and throw out “the garbage” that is virtual learning. She said the money she spends for a tutor is equivalent to a mortgage payment.

“We pay taxes for better, and yet I’m the teacher? Where’s my paycheck?” she said. “No, I get the screaming child, I get the fits of rage, I get the child that has ADHD and cannot compute half of what is being taught to him.”

Shannon Hinkhaus, a parent, said she was advocating for the full opening of the Career and Technology Center instead of the current hybrid model they have. She said they should not wait for a vaccine and learn how to live with the virus.

Carroll saw a record 377 total COVID-19 cases last week. This week, 156 new cases had been announced through Wednesday afternoon. Carroll’s case rate per 100,000 rose to 36.47.

The Maryland State Department of Education established a case rate target number at 15 or below per 100,000 as being acceptable for hybrid learning to take place. CCPS began hybrid learning — giving students the opportunity for in-person learning twice a week — on Oct. 19.

According to the Carroll County Health Department, Carroll’s rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 during the week of Oct. 18 was 5.5. It has been rising since and CCPS suspended hybrid learning at its Nov. 18 meeting.

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