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Carroll welcomes back students, again, as hybrid learning resumes for public schools

Students were roaming the Carroll County Public School halls once again on Thursday, the first day back to hybrid learning for cohort B.

The Carroll County Board of Education voted, 4-1, on Monday to return students to the building for hybrid after nearly two months of virtual learning. Those in favor of the vote frequently cited a high volume of failing grades as a reason to change learning modes.

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“I’m excited but nervous. Just because of the virus,” Nicole Schneider said as she helped her daughter get out of the car at William Winchester Elementary School.

Schneider added that it was worth it because her child was not successfully learning at home.

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William Winchester Principal Erin Sikorski said the morning was running smoothly as one of the last buses drove off.

William Winchester Elementary School students arrive on the first day back to school in Carroll County Thursday, Jan. 7, 2020.
William Winchester Elementary School students arrive on the first day back to school in Carroll County Thursday, Jan. 7, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“The bus drivers are wonderful,” she said. “They really care about the kids.”

Sikorski said they had to be “creative” with staffing.

James Carver, principal at East Middle School, said six staffers had to be quarantined on Wednesday, but by Thursday morning, their positions were successfully replaced.

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He expected about 218 students to attend school that day and 231 students when cohort A arrives next week.

Cindy McCabe, chief of schools, said 75% of the cohort B students across the county who signed up for in-person learning attended that day. Altogether, 5,475 students were in the buildings, which broke down to 3,013 in elementary schools, 1,131 in middle schools and 1,331 in high schools.

She said principals contacted parents a few weeks ago to see if they would send students back to hybrid or remain virtual if the learning model were to change.

“That’s what we’re using to plan,” she said.

At the time, 60-63% of students agreed to participate in hybrid learning or 660 students less than last time, according to McCabe. About 70% of students indicated they would participate in the fall.

CCPS conducted hybrid learning, during which students are offered the opportunity to attend school in-person twice per week (Monday and Tuesday for cohort A, Thursday and Friday for cohort B) and remain virtual the other three days, beginning Oct. 19 and running through mid-November for elementary and middle schoolers. Hybrid lasted two school days for each cohort after delaying its start until Nov. 12 due to staffing issues.

On Thursday, Children could be seen smiling and waving to school staff as their parents drove up to the drop-off in the back of William Winchester.

And some students confirmed they were happy to be back as they walked inside East Middle.

One middle schooler, however, said attending school in-person gives her less time to work on her animation project. Gracie Windsor, a seventh grader, said she already delayed the show once and might have to again.

“There’s much less time to work, which means more stress on me,” she said.

East Middle School principal James Carver and Assistant Principal Jodi Weaver, right, greet eighth graders JoAnna Singer, left, and Ashleigh Sharp as students arrive on the first day back to school in Carroll County Thursday, Jan. 7, 2020.
East Middle School principal James Carver and Assistant Principal Jodi Weaver, right, greet eighth graders JoAnna Singer, left, and Ashleigh Sharp as students arrive on the first day back to school in Carroll County Thursday, Jan. 7, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When the board voted to return to hybrid learning, Marsha Herbert, board president, said the board believes it’s in the best interest for students. She noted the virtual learning model is not working for many and the board is aware of inequities online instruction presents.

“Our students desperately need to return to a normal educational experience,” Board President Marsha Herbert said via email after the meeting. “Moving to the hybrid model is a very important step in that direction.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, wondered during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting if the timing was right, however.

“I just wish that we would have waited a little bit until our very important teachers, administrators, janitorial staff and all those in our school buildings had the opportunity to get their vaccine,” Wantz said, later adding, “I think commonsense should’ve prevailed.”

He said everyone should keep all educators in their thoughts.

“I just hope and pray that everyone remains safe,” he said.

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