The Carroll County Board of Education has taken plenty of criticism regarding decisions made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on social media, through letters to the editor and commentary, by employees, parents, elected officials from this county and others and, absolutely, from us in this space. Politics undoubtedly played a role in some of the disapproval, but what’s best for the kids in our community is simply a subject that arouses passion.
There were times that the board members’ decisions went against prevailing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wisdom. There were times they went against the advice of local experts. They were even times they went against their own previously stated positions.
When the school board made Carroll County Public Schools either the first county or among the first counties to return students to classrooms under a hybrid learning model, and to return athletes to practice and then to competition, and then to resume hybrid learning during the peak of the pandemic and finally to expand to four days per week in-person learning, the BOE was often ripped and occasionally ridiculed for its failure to follow science. Board members were asked what was going to happen when large outbreaks occurred, when schools had to be shut down, when kids started dying.
But the relatively few outbreaks were mitigated by the safety measures in place, schools stayed open and kids did not start dying. As time went on and more data was collected throughout the United States, including places that took the opposite course from Maryland and kept schools open, it was found that schools weren’t as dangerous as had been previously believed.
Regardless of how improved virtual learning was this year — and it was much improved — too many of those students not learning in person struggled mentally, emotionally and educationally. When board members learned that nearly six times as many students received failing grades in the first quarter last fall than in 2019, they made a return to in-person learning their singular focus.
They put students back into classrooms the same week Carroll set a record for COVID-19 cases and took heat even from members of neighboring counties’ school boards. Those same school boards were scrambling to figure out how to get schools open again not long after, however, as public sentiment shifted and Maryland began taking national criticism over being the least open school system in the country.
Carroll’s BOE took some risks, made some missteps along the way and will have to mollify some who they angered, but their overall strategy of trying to get kids back into classrooms sooner than the rest of the state is looking better all the time. Grades are improving and cases of COVID-19 in CCPS are dropping. There will be plenty of “learning loss” to contend with, but not as much as there would have been had CCPS stayed fully virtual as long as some nearby counties.
Del. Susan Krebs praised the school board during a joint session of Carroll’s delegation and its county commissioners on April 29.
“I’m proud of our BOE and our board members for taking a strong stand for kids,” Krebs said, noting “half the country” has been in school all year, including her grandchildren in Massachusetts. “I can’t believe the people in charge of our state have not taken the opportunity to do what’s right for our kids. But we have in Carroll County. And it’s gone very well.” She added that everyone should support “those folks who took a chance to do what was right.”
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The school board members did take a chance and it has gone as well as could’ve been expected.