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Our View: Carroll County parents deserve data about COVID-19 cases in schools | COMMENTARY

According to Carroll County Public Schools, some 70% of its students returned to buildings for in-person learning when the hybrid model commenced this week. Parents are sending their children to schools under the assumption that CCPS will adhere to protocols like social distancing, sanitizing and sending home symptomatic students.

Along those lines, parents have an expectation that CCPS and the Carroll County Health Department will keep them informed of outbreaks or other situations as they arise in schools that could impact their children. That expectation may not be met.

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Commissioner Stephen Wantz asked Health Officer Ed Singer about school data Thursday, saying it’s important for the community to be informed. “I’m not talking about names of individuals ... I’m talking about a commonsense approach,” he said, wondering if data could be broken down by school or by grade.

Singer said anybody who needs to know will be notified and that individuals' right to privacy will dictate what information is released. He said there has been discussion among health officers and legal counsel of Maryland Department of Health about what can and can’t be disclosed. “We’re looking to establish a threshold,” Singer said.

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Wantz noted the transparency being shown by Caroline County, which put out two separate news releases last week, each time detailing two staff members testing positive at a particular school, and this week disclosed that 10 staff members had tested positive and that the school was being shut down.

“I’d kind of like to know why Caroline County did it and everyone else seems to be jammed up with lawyers,” Wantz said.

Good question. We are in the midst of a pandemic and too many are getting their information from social media speculation.

“I can disclose certain information if we can show that it actually helps prevent the spread of the disease, not just because people are curious about it,” Singer said.

But it isn’t mere curiosity for those with skin in the game. Families will be seeking out information to make vital decisions.

Parents who have sent their kids back to school will be wondering if the risk level is growing. And parents who have remained fully virtual will be trying to decide when or if their kids should return. It is critical they be allowed to base their decisions on data, rather than theories posted in an online community or tweeted out.

Singer has praised the job done by McDaniel College since students returned to campus. McDaniel, which has about the same enrollment as Carroll’s largest high schools, updates its website with each new positive test and sends out public alerts if there are several positive tests in a short timeframe.

If five schools in the southern end of the county are reporting cases but none are in the north, an Eldersburg mom might keep her kids home but a Hampstead dad might see no reason to. Three cases among eighth graders at a particular school is critical knowledge to parents not only of eighth graders but also of seventh and sixth graders. Even if 10 kids from a particular school are sent home with symptoms, that should be public knowledge.

Let’s face it, when a teacher leaves in the middle of the day and doesn’t return for two weeks, when a student’s desk is empty as are three in its immediate vicinity, it won’t be hard for anyone in class to draw a conclusion. Even if no information is released officially, word will spread via Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter.

Frankly, COVID-19 could be far better contained through the release of more information. If there’s an outbreak among workers at a big box store or a restaurant, potential customers should know that to better be able to make informed choices.

It’s the same with schools. We urge CCPS and the health department to be transparent, giving parents, as well as commissioners and the wider community, as much information as possible.

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