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Our View: School board failed to heed its own guidance | COMMENTARY

When the Carroll County Board of Education met Dec. 2 and voted to resume hybrid learning in January, it was clearly stated that would happen only if COVID-19 numbers had improved and fell within Maryland State Department of Education guidelines — specifically, fewer than 15 cases per day per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate below 5%.

All that went out the window when grades were discussed at the Dec. 9 meeting and board members learned how poorly Carroll students had done during the first quarter, when students were more than five times as likely to receive a failing grade than they were in the first quarter of 2019-20 — translating to some 6,000 more F’s — and were far less likely to receive an A or a B.

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Based on that, the pledge to reopen only if measures improved was forgotten and the Jan. 4 meeting became essentially a rubber stamp. The board voted, 4-1, to return to hybrid Jan. 7 despite County Health Officer Ed Singer telling them, “Quite frankly, we’re at the worst point we’ve been in the pandemic.”

The BOE is elected by citizens to make decisions for Carroll County Public Schools and does not have to follow MSDE guidelines or listen to Singer or Superintendent Steve Lockard or Commissioner Dennis Frazier, all of whom recommended holding off on hybrid until the numbers improved.

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But it was somewhat surprising the board members didn’t even listen to themselves and follow what they said on Dec. 2. As they discussed resuming hybrid during that meeting, then-President Donna Sivigny said: “I don’t think anyone is advocating for opening up now simply because the numbers are outside of the state guidelines.” No one disagreed.

When Lockard was asked his thoughts on whether Jan. 7 would be a reasonable target date, he said yes, “assuming we’re within the metric, under 15 cases per 100,000 per day and under 5 percent.”

At that point, then-Vice President Marsha Herbert made the motion to resume hybrid Jan. 7 and after more discussion, the motion was restated. Herbert began, “All right, I’m going to make a motion that we open hybrid on January 7th ... .” Sivigny finished the motion with, “... as long as we’re within the state guidelines at that point in time.” Board member Patricia Dorsey then said: “I will second that, again, as long as we’re meeting the metrics at that time.” The vote was unanimous.

On Dec. 2, Carroll was coming off a week in which 269 new COVID-19 cases had been reported and the positivity rate was 5.5%. By Monday’s meeting, the positivity rate was up to 8.5% and the number of cases the past four weeks had been 422, 420, 356, and 336, with county officials predicting a post-holiday surge.

On Monday, Dorsey was the lone dissenting vote. Unlike the last time CCPS returned to hybrid, there was no discussion about whether schools would have proper staffing levels to adequately teach students in person.

Voting to resume hybrid learning this week was a bold move by the board, clearly favored by many parents who had been vocal about their kids’ academic and emotional need to return to school.

If CCPS makes it through the year without large numbers of staff and students becoming sick, without numerous schools closing, without CCPS seen as a reason for an increase in community spread and with grades going up significantly, the move will be hailed as a forward-thinking victory for students that could give them a leg up on fellow students across the state as well as provide a model for others. We’ll be rooting for that scenario.

If not, it’ll be fair to wonder why board members didn’t heed their own Dec. 2 advice.

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