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

Private schools seeing few COVID-19 cases despite spike in Carroll County

John Polasko, president of Gerstell Academy in Finksburg, said the school has been lucky to have had few COVID-19 cases during a time when cases have been on the rise in Carroll County and throughout Maryland.

Private schools, which have seen an increase in enrollment largely attributed to offering more in-person learning than public school, have seen relatively few outbreaks this school year at least in part as a result of small class sizes, resources and protocols.

Advertisement

The president said Gerstell had one outbreak that resulted in three people testing positive for the virus, in September. More recently, about 25 students and a handful of teachers were considered close contacts, and some are quarantined until Dec. 8, he said. Polasko said he believes there have been about five total positive tests from members of the school community all semester.

Gerstell has about 400 students on a large campus with modern buildings and wide hallways. Students were all tested at the beginning of the school year, signs about social distancing were posted around the school, stairwells and hallways are “one-way” and physical education classes were held outside. Each member of the Gerstell Academy community is texted a questionnaire every school day morning that asks about COVID-19 symptoms.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Parents can choose for their students to learn fully remote, participate in hybrid learning or remain on campus “as often as their division allows,” Polasko said. For high school students, a typical week sees freshmen and sophomores on campus Monday through Thursday while juniors and seniors learn remotely. The schedules are switched the following week. On Fridays, everyone learns from home.

The academy held a fall athletic season though the schedule was shaved down to about eight games per team. “We’ll see about winter sports,” he said.

Gerstell Academy's Adrienne Martin returns a ball in the second game of the Falcons' match against Chapelgate Christian Academy in Finksburg Nov. 20, 2020.
Gerstell Academy's Adrienne Martin returns a ball in the second game of the Falcons' match against Chapelgate Christian Academy in Finksburg Nov. 20, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

The winter season would typically have started already but it was delayed until at least Jan. 11. Students will be retested when they return from winter break.

The public schools are also uncertain about winter sports. The start of the season has been delayed to Dec. 14, seven days after it was scheduled to start, because of rising COVID-19 numbers throughout Carroll County. Board of Education members said they would revisit that topic as well as the decision to suspend hybrid learning at a special Dec. 2 meeting, when they are expected to assess how the county is doing in terms of COVID-19 cases.

Advertisement

The most recent numbers on the school system’s data dashboard reported that 40 people tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of Nov. 18 and 115 people had virus-like symptoms out of more than 24,000 students and over 2,000 staff members.

The Carroll County Health Department on Monday announced three deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 159 new cases over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Carroll saw 253 total COVID-19 cases last week, the second-most the county has seen in a week but significantly down from the record 322 that were reported the previous week.

Matthew Reisberg, Carroll Christian Schools’ principal, said the Westminster school, with about 330 students, has had zero in-school transmission of the coronavirus during the 15 weeks it has been open. And two cases of students contracting the virus from outside the school.

The principal said they are taking winters sports games “situation by situation.” Masks are being worn, fans are limited and players are keeping a distance as much as possible.

“If playing a game against a team at a certain time or in a certain location may cause a risk to our players then we try to avoid that game,” he said in an email.

Reisberg added key players will miss games “for precautions” but the goal is to have the entire season.

Students onscreen join a second grad class remotely at St. John School in Westminster Monday, Sept 28, 2020. A majority of St. John students are attending class in person while about 10 percent chose to attend remotely.
Students onscreen join a second grad class remotely at St. John School in Westminster Monday, Sept 28, 2020. A majority of St. John students are attending class in person while about 10 percent chose to attend remotely. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Principal Jo Marie Tolj at St. John Catholic School in Westminster said of the 297 students, none have tested positive for the virus. About 10% are virtual and anyone who may have a symptom or live with someone who’s a close contact or tested positive for the virus, are allowed to stay home and switch to virtual learning.

“Parents are being very proactive practicing protocols,” she said.

The principal added she’s grateful the school could stay open during a time when children are suffering from mental health crisis. She said they are “able to provide students with some level of normalcy.”

Gerstell and Carroll Christian are using online-only learning this week to provide a buffer between Thanksgiving break and students returning to schools. St. John delayed students’ return until Wednesday.

Although Carroll Lutheran School has nearly doubled its enrollment since last school year, no one in the school community has contracted the virus, Mandy Gilbart, CLS principal said, noting that only a handful of students had to quarantine due to exposure from outside the school.

She said her school requires parents to submit trip request forms before they travel but all families who planned to leave for the holidays have withdrawn their forms.

The school has been able to move forward with traditional activities, with slight modifications, like the Fun Run and the “Messy Game Show” that happened afterward. The foot race activity typically brings in $5,000 to $7,000. However, they raised $20,600 this year.

Gilbart said they “almost doubled our enrollment, but we almost tripled our funds.”

Kaden Jarrett and Zack Olsh, students at Carroll Lutheran School, participate in the school's Fun Run last month.
Kaden Jarrett and Zack Olsh, students at Carroll Lutheran School, participate in the school's Fun Run last month. (Handout)

Jodi Lupco, the head of school at Montessori School of Westminster, said she doesn’t want to jinx it but none of the 118 students have tested positive for the coronavirus so far. About 90% of the students are in the school full-time.

The school ran a seven-week camp in the summer and started in-person school Sept. 8. A sidewalk was installed outside the building so students can more easily enter classrooms from the exterior. Restrooms are in each classroom and children are kept in “pods,” or groups, and restricted from switching out.

“We, knock on wood, have been here every day since,” she said. “Our parents are awesome at keeping their children home with one symptom.”

Lupco said it has been parents and staff who have made the experience successful.

She said she’s happy with the way things are going but she’s “definitely very nervous” for the rest of the school year.

“I’m not naïve to think we’re exempt from getting it,” she said.

North Carroll Community School has remained coronavirus free, according to Sam Havighurst, the school’s administrator to 150 students, although, some students and staff have had to quarantine as a precaution.

The school has implemented a daily symptom checker for parents to use before students arrive to campus as well as daily disinfecting and frequent handwashing breaks.

“Additionally, we do not allow anyone in the building except for staff members and students, and they are all screened each day with a temperature check and a series of COVID-related questions,” he said in an email.

Advertisement

Lorraine Fulton, head of school at Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor, said only a couple of students are quarantined because a family member was exposed. She said they have been doing well overall.

Advertisement

Students head off for winter break in about two weeks. A few boarding students who live on campus were not allowed to return to school this semester per the school’s pandemic plans. They still received online instruction. However, about four or five out-of-state students will return after the winter break, Fulton said.

Springdale Preparatory, which has about 60 students, held a professional development day for staff on Monday and had students returned from Thanksgiving break on Tuesday.

The school held its first basketball game Monday and a second game is scheduled for Wednesday. The girls and boys basketball teams are the only ones currently in season. Tyrone Johnson, the executive athletic director and basketball coach, described the school as being as “very careful” with temperature checks, health questionnaires and limited fans allowed to attend. He noted that Wednesday’s game isn’t guaranteed if cases increase or if the opposing team is no longer comfortable.

“Nobody really knows for sure what’s ahead,” Fulton said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement