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‘We’ll take things as they come’: As Howard County students return to schools in person, parents stay hopeful

After nearly a year and a half, Howard County schools opened their doors fully to students Monday.

Having endured online and hybrid learning models since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, students are now returning to in-person school five days a week.

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Leading up to the start of the 2021-22 academic year, the Howard County Public School System rolled out new guidelines to ensure students’ health and safety, which includes requiring all students to wear face masks while indoors throughout the school day regardless of their vaccination status.

As the new school year begins, parents have varying thoughts as to how it might unfold.

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Kimberly Ford, who has two daughters — Ashley, 15, and Emily, 12 — who are in 10th grade at Glenelg High School and seventh grade at Glenwood Middle School, respectively, said she is excited for the start of school.

“I attended back-to-school night at Glenelg, and the entire staff and every teacher that I saw talked about how happy they were to be back in the building and how excited they were to see the kids’ faces,” said Ford, of Cooksville.

Although Ford and her daughters are excited for the new school year, she said she understands the risk of attending school in person.

“There’s always the risk that someone’s going to get sick, but I think sometimes the solution to keeping us safe is worse than actually taking the risk [of] having them in school in person,” Ford said.

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Gene Harrington, who has twin 10-year-old sons Logan and Quinn in fifth grade at Waverly Woods Elementary School, said he is also excited for his children to be attending school in person.

“I’m excited that [my sons] get to enjoy their fifth grade year in a regular setting,” said Harrington, of Ellicott City. “It would have been disappointing to them if they hadn’t been able to go through their last year at Waverly in an in-person format.”

Although he is aware of the challenges presented by the pandemic, he said he tries not to worry.

“We’ll take things as they come,” Harrington said. “We’re certainly aware that we’re still in a worldwide pandemic and we’ll see what happens.”

Like Howard’s public school system, many private schools in the county and beyond have implemented guidelines to keep students healthy and safe.

Allison Frels, of Mount Airy, has two children who are attending private schools in person beginning this week. Brooks, 10, is in fifth grade at the Kennedy Krieger Fairmount Campus in Baltimore, while Annie, 6, is in first grade at Chapelgate Christian Academy in Marriottsville.

The Kennedy Krieger Institute requires all employees, patients and visitors to wear face masks while working in any of their buildings and all patients and visitors must keep a distance of at least 6 feet, according to its website.

Chapelgate Christian Academy is following Howard County’s health and safety policies, requiring students to wear face masks in school and on public transportation, and is following the mitigation strategies recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for any possible exposures, Frels said.

Frels, whose son has autism, said she is optimistic heading into the school year knowing he will be attending in person.

“We really struggled with the virtual setting in getting him all the services he needs and having him be able to [retain] the information in the way the material was being presented,” Frels said. “We were looking forward to him going back to full-time, in-person learning so that he can work on retaining his [Individualized Education Program] goals and meeting those goals successfully this year.”

Frels said she wants the new school year to be a positive experience for her children.

“I hope in the new school year that we’re able to really [help] my son who lost some skills and had some increased anxiety because of being outside his routine,” Frels said. “I’m really hopeful that he can start to retain those skills so that he can then transition back into a more public life rather than being at home.”

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