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Are Howard County schools prepared for in-person learning? | READER COMMENTARY

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael J. Martirano walks through the door at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City on the first day of in-person classes Monday, March 1, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Baltimore Sun Media).
Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael J. Martirano walks through the door at Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City on the first day of in-person classes Monday, March 1, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Baltimore Sun Media). (Dylan Slagle/Baltimore Sun Media)

Like many other Howard County parents, I’m back-to-school shopping for my elementary-school-aged kids. I’m counting down to our first day while hoping I’ll hear something — anything — from the folks in charge about what September will look like. Considering the rising case numbers, the Delta variant and our vulnerable unvaccinated kids, parents’ anxiety is high. And yet here we are, almost in August, and we’ve heard nothing from the school system’s leadership. I’ve written to school board members, Superintendent Michael J. Martirano and our school’s principal, and I have had no response (”Some Baltimore-area school districts are not planning to require masks this fall, leaving choice to parents,” July 19).

The plan is to return to full-time, in-person learning. But what mitigation measures will be put into place for Howard County Public School System students who will be indoors in over-capacity, aging school buildings for hours every day? Will air purifiers be used or windows opened to improve ventilation? Will students and staff be tested regularly to catch and isolate cases quickly? Will classes be kept together in “pods” to reduce the number of people they come into contact with? Will masks be mandatory for all students and staff?

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Superintendent Martirano has stated publicly several times that “99% of HCPSS staff who wanted a vaccine” have received one, but that number is meaningless, as we don’t know how many adults have refused vaccination. We need to know how many unvaccinated adults our kids will be in contact with. I realize individuals’ vaccine status can’t be shared for privacy reasons, but why won’t HCPSS tell us what percentage of their teachers and support staff are fully vaccinated? Is it because it’s not a number we’ll feel safe with?

Also a mystery is what the trigger point may be at which online learning would be re-instituted for all students. HCPSS gave us a virtual option for 2021/2022 but we had to decide in May whether or not to take that option for a full year. Things have changed since May. Can high-risk families opt into virtual learning during the year, if the COVID-19 situation gets worse?

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My son and his preschool-age brothers are at higher risk for COVID-19, and I am trying to make the safest choices for them in this stressful time. It’s frustrating how parents and children are being excluded in discussions about “reopening” Maryland. That HCPSS school leadership is silent about such an important thing is inexcusable. Parents are worried.

Talk to us.

Jennifer MacCormack, Columbia

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