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Accommodations for kids of Carroll County teachers ‘special treatment’ or necessary compromise?

Carroll County educators have the option of sending their school-age children to public school buildings four days per week instead of the maximum of two for most families, a decision made by the school system in response to teachers applying for leave to stay home with their kids.

One parent who can only send his children two days a week under the hybrid learning model, said that isn’t fair.

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“Everybody’s struggling with COVID and I think it’s newsworthy that certain people get special treatment,” Richard Duncan, of Westminster, said in an interview.

A majority of elementary and middle school students returned to buildings Oct. 19 for hybrid learning. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, students were split into two cohorts, with the A group able to attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the and B group able to attend school in person on Thursdays and Fridays.

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Through Oct. 29, CCPS had approved 64 requests from educators to have their children attend in-person learning four days a week, according to Director of Human Resources Chantress Baptist.

Duncan said his wife cannot return to work because she monitored two of their four children who attended Friendship Valley Elementary School until he and his wife took their youngest son out of CCPS and enrolled him in a private school. He said he needed the in-person instruction five days a week but it’s costing them $350 a month.

“I just feel like it’s a struggle,” he said.

Duncan said it isn’t fair the hybrid model has caused financial ramifications and stress for his family when “teachers haven’t missed a paycheck since Day One” of school closures. He said the public schools should be back to five days a week for in-person instruction and called the hybrid learning model a “cop-out.”

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Superintendent Steve Lockard said he understands the criticisms from parents but allowing staff’s children to attend more often was inspired by their teacher shortage. More than 300 teachers applied for leave weeks before hybrid learning began.

Lockard said the accommodation, which was discussed ahead of time at school board meetings, allowed them to put staff in place for in-person learning.

“So we can actually get schools open a couple days a week for everybody,” he said.

“This was one solution to help alleviate the shortage of a qualified adults in the classroom,” Teresa McCulloh, president of Carroll’s education association, said in an email. “The only other recourse was for the teacher with daycare needs to telework.”

Only a small amount of teachers took advantage, Lockard added. Who was approved was on a case-by-case basis.

Baptist said employees had to apply for consideration. HR staff then spoke with the leadership of the school building the employee’s child would be attending “to ensure that we can accommodate student attendance” and health care guidelines were being followed.

Lockard said the health department approved the accommodation though students of staff would interact with both A and B groups. It wasn’t enough students of staff to be considered a risk, he said, and people like bus drivers and teachers, already interact with both groups.

The superintendent said the best strategies to slow the spread of the virus is wearing masks and social distancing.

Ed Singer, county health officer, told county commissioners on Thursday that there had been no outbreaks or transmission spread within the school system. But there will be eventually. The health officer confirmed cases at the school system have been identified.

He spoke at the commissioners' weekly meeting one day after Carroll County Health Department reported 29 new cases of COVID-19, putting Carroll County on pace for its highest number of positive tests among community members in a week since July. Through Friday, 90 community cases had been announced.

It is unclear whether the potential spike this week has anything to do with reopening under the hybrid model Oct. 19, although few school-age children have tested positive since then.

The day schools reopened, the local health department had reported a cumulative total of 28 community cases among those younger than 10 years old and 188 among those between ages 10 and 19. Through Friday, there had been four confirmed under-10 cases and nine confirmed 10-19 cases since.

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