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Our View: Proponents, opponents must be realistic as Carroll County Public Schools prepares for full reopening | COMMENTARY

At one point during Wednesday’s Carroll County Board of Education meeting, as board members were being briefed on issues involved with returning to school full time, President Marsha Herbert referred to what was being said and slides being displayed as a “negative presentation.”

Superintendent Steve Lockard replied: “Respectfully, no one’s trying to be negative. We’re trying to point out what the challenges are in front of us. And we want you to be fully aware of what those challenges are.”

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Which is exactly what Carroll County Public Schools personnel should have been doing. The decisions the BOE has had to make during the coronavirus pandemic have been difficult. But dictating policy is different from implementing it and school board members need a complete understanding of all that goes into expanding in-person learning.

“We’ve just got to figure this out,” Herbert said later. “And I should’ve maybe used a better word.”

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She was right on both counts. A better, more accurate word than “negative” is “realistic.”

Trying to get as many students as possible back to school as quickly as possible is the directive. Trying to do so while keeping students safe, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, is the pesky and challenging part of the equation that can make recommendations sound negative.

But those on the other side of the argument, the parents, teachers and others who believe it’s too soon to bring so many students back together need to be realistic, too.

Anyone who thought the board was going to heed Health Officer Ed Singer’s advice to hold off until the number of COVID-19 cases per week in Carroll County drops from what the CDC considers “substantial” (50-99 community cases per week per 100,000 residents) to “moderate (10-49 cases) hasn’t been paying attention.

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Board member Ken Kiler reminded everyone that when the board voted to return to hybrid at the peak of the pandemic and when it voted to allow high school sports to be played, “there were some people that wanted to crucify us.”

Indeed. Perhaps more than any in Maryland, Carroll’s school board members have been intent on getting students to resume pre-pandemic practices, regardless of advice or guidance. Now, more and more, the numbers are on their side.

The number of students and staff members within CCPS with COVID-19 or COVID-like symptoms has declined steadily since students returned to hybrid learning the first week of January, showing mitigation measures are working. The challenge will be continuing that while doubling the number of students in classrooms each day, in some cases necessitating far less than 6 feet of distancing.

Other key numbers include the three times as many F’s given out for the second semester this year compared with last year. And that Burbio chart showing that Maryland ranked dead last with only 8.4% of its students learning in person while the number was anywhere from 50-100% in 32 states. And the fact that Singer estimated some 70% of educators who wanted to be vaccinated, have been, a number that will only grow.

So by March 22, CCPS will be allowing every student to return to school buildings at least four days per week. “Somehow we’ve got to do this and pull the Band-Aid off and let people say, ‘Oh my gosh, this works,’” Kiler said Wednesday.

Realistically, staffing issues and quarantining issues are to be expected. There will be problems educationally and pertaining to health.

Also, realistically, teachers will have to make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families about returning to work, just as healthcare workers, restaurant wait staff, store clerks and so many others have had to do.

Everything about this is fraught with challenges, from any side’s perspective. Pointing that out isn’t being negative, just realistic.

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