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Our View: Success of Carroll County school board decision dependent on safe plan, teacher buy-in | COMMENARY

The Board of Education is proceeding with the confidence of a red-hot blackjack player at a Las Vegas casino, doubling down, emboldened by the relative paucity of COVID-19 cases in Carroll County Public Schools over the past month of hybrid learning and the shifting opinion of the general public, politicians and the scientific community.

The board, at its Wednesday meeting, voted to allow all students to return to schools in person four days a week by March 22 and five days a week at certain facilities (such as the Career and Tech Center).

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Families have already decided what’s right for them, split nearly down the middle. According to CCPS, some 45% of students have been attending classes in person since the Jan. 7 resumption of hybrid learning, which gives students the option of going to school twice a week.. Parents have no reason to be upset by Wednesday’s vote. Half should be happy their kids can go to school even more than they have been; the other half should be happy their kids can continue their stay-at-home status quo.

Teachers are a different story. For understandable reasons. Before most will be fully vaccinated against the virus, they’ll be seeing classrooms twice as full.

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The most recent data shows 46 students and 18 staff members infected with COVID-19 and 79 students and 12 staffers showing symptoms. Those numbers are much higher than in November, during the first round of hybrid, but they’ve declined significantly since January and predictions of large-scale outbreaks have thus far proven unfounded.

These numbers have accrued amid relatively empty classrooms, however, making it easy for students to maintain a 6-foot (or more) distance from other students and teachers. County Health Officer Ed Singer told the board he isn’t sure how they’ll be able to keep students 3 to 6 feet apart and that anything less than 3 feet would be “unacceptable.”

Superintendent Steve Lockard expressed concern about maintaining distance Wednesday, too. He also noted the staffing challenges the school system is facing because of quarantine and resignations. Chantress Baptist, director of human resources, said 157 substitute teachers had been hired since Oct. 1. Lockard said central office staff members have been filling in at some classrooms and the system is working with a temp agency.

The fact that there have been resignations should give everyone pause. Students need in-person learning but they also need good teachers giving them instruction.

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The day after the meeting, the board faced criticism from the county commissioners. “We have got to see a plan,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz said. “Just to say everybody goes back and let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, without a plan, is unacceptable.”

The Board of Education is expected to outline that plan at its Feb. 24 meeting.

Just as we urged the school board to hold off on hybrid until February to get past the post-holiday spike of COVID-19 cases, we would rather see this full return put off until the fourth quarter, in mid-April, by which time all teachers (and many more student family members) would be vaccinated. Still, we’re not going to criticize this decision without knowing the details of the plan — which must make safety the top priority — or how many teachers will balk.

Hybrid learning has gone as well as could be reasonably expected. For the sake of all CCPS students and teachers, we hope the board’s hot streak continues. The stakes are high.

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