Alban

Superintendent Terry Alban

In an often-tense discussion Wednesday night, the Frederick County Board of Education and a handful of school officials went over the district’s policies for curtailing COVID-19 in schools and supporting students in quarantine.

During a work session that was scheduled to last an hour but stretched on for two and a half, board members heard teacher and administrator concerns. The discussion came amid community frustration about quarantining and contact tracing.

“I had a parent tell me that this year for their student is a waste,” board member Jason Johnson said. “It broke my heart. And it doesn’t have to be. We can be creative.”

For the past two weeks, Superintendent Terry Alban said, the district has had more than 1,000 students in quarantine every week and has been notified of a new school outbreak every day.

The discussion centered around a list of questions that board members had submitted to FCPS central office staff. Those questions ran the gamut of pandemic preparedness issues, touching on topics ranging from social distancing at lunch to tutoring options for quarantined students.

For more than an hour, FCPS school administration and system accountability director Jamie Aliveto led a group of three principals and one teacher in listing challenges they’d faced in the three weeks since school began — focusing mainly on managing contact tracing and supporting families in quarantine.

Board members asked them questions in return, sometimes appearing frustrated with the lack of simple answers.

Walkersville High School Principal Stephanie Ware said that often a single positive case necessitates three or four hours of contact tracing work from three or four different people.

Principals are bearing a large portion of the burden, Ware and others said Wednesday, often feeling solely responsible for communicating the district’s protocols to other administrators, teachers, staff and families.

That’s been especially difficult when it comes to contact tracing, said Brian Vasquenza, principal of Windsor Knolls Middle School.

“It was clumsy, at first, to say the least,” he said.

And some principals have had to hand-deliver Chromebooks to quarantined students who needed them to access online instructional materials, Urbana Elementary School Principal Tracy Hilliard said.

“This is not your job,” board member Liz Barrett said in response. “I recognize that everybody says, ‘I’ll do whatever,’ but this is not the job of the principal.”

Missy Dirks, president of the union that represents FCPS teachers, said instructors didn’t have access to the COVID-19 handbook where principals receive information and regular updates about school virus protocols. Last year, she said, that document was available to all teachers.

Dirks said her members had been especially concerned about the district’s infrastructure to support students who may have to endure lengthy quarantines. Concurrent teaching — where instructors teach students who are in the classroom while simultaneously teaching via Google Meet — doesn’t work well for anyone, she said.

Crosby Blair, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, had 11 of his 22 students quarantined last week, he told the board.

“Access to devices is a challenge at my school,” he said. “It’s something that I see as a challenge for equity in general.”

And while some community members argued that FCPS should simply allow quarantined students to “listen in” to classes via Google Meet, Dirks and FCPS Curriculum and Instruction Director Kevin Cuppett said that would quickly shift into a concurrent teaching model.

Students would ask questions, Dirks and Cuppett said, and teachers would be unable to simply ignore them. The ensuing burden of managing the technology would take up a lot of their attention and wouldn’t be fair to the students present in classrooms, they said.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” Dirks said.

Board member Sue Johnson said she’d communicated with families who had a wonderful experience in FCPS’ summer programs, yet their children had only been in school for a total of four days since the academic year resumed on Aug. 18 due to quarantines.

“So that’s a crushing blow,” Johnson said. “It feels like we’re taking one step forward, and almost two steps backwards.”

As the discussion wound down, FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban posed a question that seemed to strike some board members as a curveball.

“I would like to get specific, clear direction for me and for our staff as to what would it take, and when would we look to have FCPS choose to move away from our current in-person instructional model,” she said.

Several board members then reiterated their support for keeping kids in school five days per week.

The issue was added as a discussion item on the agenda for the board’s next meeting, which will take place on Sept. 22.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

(49) comments

BornToHula2

Are there any initiatives to enable lunch to be eaten outside? Seems like lunch would be the riskiest activity (lack of distancing and lack of mask).

Plumbum

My high school son was saying the same thing last Friday

NewMarketParent

@BornToHula2

The problem is that that particular solution would be short-lived because of weather and winter.

Plumbum

There are more favorable months and more non-rain days than there are non-favorable.

FrederickFellow

My kids' school is already doing that---thanks to all who work in the lunch room (and outside of it) taking care of our kids.

HappySeller2014

Dirks is COMPLETELY wrong. But, her comments are what I would expect from a clueless union rep.

It is easy peasy to set up concurrent teaching. Just turn on the camera on your computer! Teacher can concentrate of teaching class to those present and those at home with COVID or quarintined due to close contact AT THE SAME TIME. Colleges do this daily, or videotape their sessions and post to an internet site to view later. You can allow students to interrupt and ask questions via video, or allow them to just listen in. THE KEY IS EVERY CHILD HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO OBSERVE ACTUAL TEACHING...not assignments posted to Schoology, or whatever.

Why is this so hard??? Montgomery County been doing it since school started back up a few weeks ago!

Again, why is this so hard??? The FCPS union is a whining bunch of clueless folks. The FCPS union needs to get its head out of the sand and see how the rest of the world works, including other MD county school systems adjacent to FCPS.

Instead of the union always complaining about what they cannot do, for once, how about what they CAN do to support our kids and their teachers? I am so sick and tired of the FCPS union...and it blows me away FCPS executives had all summer to fugure this out, and now has only short and questionable answers to just about EVERYTHING.

Malefeasance like this is why kids are sitting at home daily in quarantine with nothing to do, and why pictures of schoolbuses stuck in floodwaters with rapid river rescue boats circling are being viewed nationwide. My goodness, even the FCPS Board seems impotent...just asking questions and making policy statements without offering direction, holding folks accountable, or conducting any reasonable level of oversight.

Simply SAD for all, and worst of all, for our Frederick County schoolchildren.

kzi1

Wow. Just wow. Please sign up to go teach. You seem to have all the answers.

bayoumomma

[thumbup]

HappySeller2014

Montgomery County has the answers, kzi1. So do other county school districts in the state of MD.

The solution here is not for me to go and teach. It is to hold folks responsible in Frederick County. Telling the messenger here to just go and teach gets both you and I nowhere.

jth7100

you and me. Speaking of school issues. Do they teach that in MoCo?

FlyFisherman

I don't know how this has perpetuated but Montgomery County Public Schools is NOT doing concurrent teaching. They DO NOT have cameras on with students at home while they teach this year. They, as does FCPS, have a separate virtual school. The teachers in Montgomery County are expected to interact with students during their planning time.

bayoumomma

Concurrent teaching requires the teacher to interact with students in the classroom, students at home with their cameras on and their dogs in their laps, and students at home with their cameras off, who are logged in but are actually off playing video games or lounging on some remote beach, meeting and the interference of parents who feel empowered to sit in and "observe" a class. It is unfair to the students who do their best to participate whether at school or at home to have to share their teacher with students who do everything they can to do as little as possible. Students who want to be successful work hard to be successful and teachers do everything they can to support those students, regardless of where that student is or isn't.

If you have it all figured out, fill out an application and teach. Oddly, there are LOTS of vacancies in FCPS schools right now. But, don't forget, teachers are working without a contract, and have to put up with comments from anyone who ever went to school and thinks they know better, for the same pay they made two years ago.

HappySeller2014

Bayou, it is simply important to offer the opportunity to all those who wish to take advantage and participate in it.

No one can control who is at the beach, who is playing video games, who has a dog, etc. Parents can be screened out. It sounds like, here in this situation, you want to hold all of the good kids back because of recalcitrant or lazy kids and parents, which reminds me of no kid left behind ridiculousness.

Just allow access. The smart and hardworking kids and parents will take advantage of it...and the dumb ones will not. Heck, hybrid schooling was the norm this entire last spring in FCPS!

Bayou, just think how dumb the average person is, and then come to terms with the fact 50% of people are stupider than that. It is a sobering thought...but the world we live in. Do not hold up opportunitues for the smart folks among us by catering to those who are not.

bayoumomma

Unfortunately, the honest, hardworking kids are held back by this structure, but they have no one to blame other than their less than honest, lazy classmates. The slackers always ruin it for the others.

If virtual access could be limited to the students in quarantine, only for the time they are actually in quarantine, then it may be a workable solution. As the situation stands now that is not an option. Again, thank the slackers from the spring. They are the ones we should all be blaming.

threecents

They need a hybrid system, where people can remote learn if they choose.

HappySeller2014

Heck, FCPS kids had that ALL LAST SPRING!

bayoumomma

You hit the nail on the head...if they CHOOSE... In the spring, parents CHOSE to go on vacation because their kids could log into a Google Meet and "learn" from the beach, students could log in and "learn" if they CHOSE not to get up on time, brush their teeth and get on the bus. Parents CHOSE to eavesdrop on their child's classes and correct the teachers. Teachers were expected to roll along and adapt to whatever students CHOSE to do, no questions asked. The CHOOSERS last spring ruined it for everyone now. You reap what you sow.

@bayoumomma

Exactly……but now the choosers aren’t going to have a choice. Those of us that made the right choice are the ones in charge….don’t forget we are the ones with power now!

HappySeller2014

Bayou, the choosers ruined it for THEIR kids. My children thrived in the hybrid environment last year. They were engaged, participative, and worked hard.

The choosers did not ruin it for me or my kids...or everyone else for that matter. They only hurt themselves.

Do not play the wailing, affronted and victim card here.

bayoumomma

The slackers ruined the option to have virtual on an as needed basis this year. Given them an inch and they will take a mile.

My children thrived in the hybrid environment, too. They had their cameras on, they were dressed in school appropriate clothing and did what was expected of them.Not all of their classmates did likewise, unfortunately.

Plumbum

How are we supposed to stop the spread or slow the spread with in person schooling that is doing nothing but spawning the virus?

This is so uneducated. Holding in person school. During a pandemic.

Plumbum

11 out of 22 students in quarantine. And it’s not even October / November yet, when Covid will sky rocket. Thanksgiving, huge super spreader.

11 out of 22.

That’s nothing to shake a stick at.

It’s bad now. And it’s gonna get worse. Mark my words.

The schools must close. This is foolish.

Aslan19

@Bum, I would be very interested in learning the number of kids who are quarantined who actually end up with a case of COVID. I am thinking that it is going to be very, very small.

NewMarketParent

@Aslan19

I wouldn't bet on it. Delta is a lot more transmissible (sp?) than other variants and it's only a matter of time before Mu is here as well. Please stop thinking of this as the flu until we are all capable of getting a vaccine.

While I am concerned for the adults, all of them have a vaccine available that they have access to (with a few edge cases of people who cannot take the vaccine for some legitimate medical reason).

It's the kids under 12 that are most at risk since they cannot be vaccinated yet. We really need to be taking a hard look about making them all virtual again for now until we are able to vaccinate them. We are only beginning to see what Mu is going to do and FL is trying to put up Kobe numbers on the number of variants they can produce.

AOC

WCPS has 144 kids in quarantine

Case numbers lower than nearby districts

Sherry Greenfield

The Herald-Mail USA TODAY NETWORK

Washington County Public Schools has 144 students in quarantine due to COVID-19 related cases as of Tuesday.

The new school year began on Aug. 30, and since then 177 students have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 42 staff members, Washington County Health Officer Earl Stoner said that night.

Washington County Public Schools has a student enrollment of 22,681 students.

AOC

The good news is that Washington County Public Schools’ coronavirus numbers are significantly lower than its neighboring county school districts.

On average, 1,000 to 1,250 students have been quarantined due to COVID-19 in Frederick County, Md., since school started on Aug. 18, Brandon Oland, spokesman for Frederick County Public Schools, said.

As of Wednesday, 44,000 students are learning in person in Frederick County.

jth7100

Also, if you're not vaccinated; GET VACCINATED and stop allowing this virus the chance to keep changing. This is akin to figuring out to live in a burning house without putting out the fire.

Dwasserba

[thumbup]jth I’m so tired of hearing the PA mantra, “we are just going to have to live with this, get over it, everyone doesn’t die.”

Crab0721

Just because not everyone dies does not mean that they don't have long term health problems. Also how would you feel if one of your household members specifically your child was to die? I would not want that to happen to you or anyone else.

MCP2016

I recall reading that FCPS was working on implementing evening tutoring support. Perhaps the daytime classes can be recorded and tutoring support can be given remotely using the recorded class the following day? Yes, they would be one day behind, but they would get the support needed remotely. Is there a possibility to partner with colleges to get additional support from students to intern or provide part time/flexible jobs (with appropriate credentials and background checks)? This may help students quarantined due to Covid or out of class for other medical issues. Additional resources are clearly needed to support students that are unable to attend class and for contact tracing. Unfortunately this looks like a long term issue and long term solutions are needed.

HappySeller2014

The FCPS budget was ridiculously increased and passed by the FCPS School Board recently.

Where are all those taxpayer dollars going?

A HUGE increase in the school budget was approved, much higher than the increase in inflation. Are we now seeing that even with these increased resources, FCPS needs even MORE to do what Montgomery County has been doing with its schoolkids since day one of this school year?

LoveOneAnother

I'm furious at the lack of creative thought and forethought amongst county leadership--it's been 18 months and they still have huge holes in their policies. The lack of support for kids in quarantine is appalling, because the effect of it is complete DIS-incentive for people to do the right thing (that is, quarantine)! While we KNOW that people are contagious BEFORE presenting symptoms, there is no incentive or support for kids to stay home when know they've been exposed to COVID outside of the classroom but they're not [yet] presenting symptoms. (For example, say their piano teacher falls ill the day after the kid's piano lesson...the kid should be able to stay home for a week and see if they develop symptoms. Otherwise, they could very well be shedding virus before presenting symptoms, and then we end up with a whole cohort exposed.) Why can't we keep up the hybrid model to at least allow kids to "listen in", even if they can't ask questions in real time? At least it's SOMETHING.

HappySeller2014

Your points are well taken.

The problem is FCPS execurive management, the FCPS Board, and the FCPS union are all chasing themselves to the bottom of the barrel. The malfeasance, utter lack of professional due diligence, and apparent cluelessness and ineptness is entrenced. And spreading like a cancer, or a wildfire.

When the entire circus is being led by the clowns, you know you gonna have big problems.

Crab0721

Those board members are the ones that people wanted voted in and now they want to complain about how they are doing their job.

HappySeller2014

Crab, if you think seeing schoolbuses stuck in floodwaters and this quarantine circus going on in FCPS is people doing their jobs, I am curious as to what you think would be happening if they weren't doing their jobs.

Many are complaining because they ARE NOT doing their jobs. Accountability, oversight, due diligence and executive acumen are all absent here.

Piedmontgardener

Let's all turn down the volume on this matter, it's going to be a hard several months in COVID landscape for the schools, parents and children to handle. There is no perfect solution other than to help people get through it.

Fredginrickey

[thumbup]

Frayou

👍

HappySeller2014

There is an easy solution. Those in executive and elected positions, as well as union reps, need to do their jobs in a professional manner. And be held accountable.

You just throwing up your hands, Piedmontgardner. If your tomato plants are wilting, do you just assume there is not perfect solution and just hope your tomato plants get through it?

kzi1

Agreed.

kzi1

Agreed to Piemontgardner's post. Not to HappySeller's.

NewMarketParent

@Piedmontgardener

I think the best shot at saving lives at this point is to:

* Return to all-virtual school for everyone younger than vaccine age

* Require vaccines for all teachers and students > 12

* Allow hybrid for children >12

* Allow parents with children who have children older and younger than 12 to be given precedence for all-virtual for the children over 12 to keep the younger ones safe

That's currently our best chance to make it through the school year with minimum number of people on vents. I would say all-virtual for everyone, but blockhead parents would rather be horrified by the idea of their kid's mental health suffering than their kid's coffin.

@NMP

These choices would render coffins moot….. but you know had we all gotten the vaccine instead of believing in myths, these choices would be moot!

gary4books

"Can children recover from a break in their classes or online learning?" is an important question and many think this gap will harm their education.

On the other hand, I suggest that there are more serious problems to avoid. I had rather be cautious than sorry. Dead children do not recover. Ill children do recover, but at what cost and disability? It may seem like this will last forever, but it is limited and patience is what we need now.

Crab0721

A lot of parents and people think that kids will not recover from the online learning and breaks. However if they had a better attitude maybe the children would be able to have a better chance. Most parents just want to make everything about emotional and mental abuse because kids can't be in school.

Like you said it's better to have an ill child then a Dead one. This is what most people do not understand. They also don't understand that the children are bringing this virus home and a lot of people are not wearing masks or not getting vaccinated which just keeps this virus spreading. Both of my children are vaccinated . 1 in college and they have a mask mandate and the other is in high school and she takes precautions because I am immunocompromised. So if we go out we still wear our masks vaccinated or not because I would not want to be responsible for someone becoming sick.

Fredginrickey

[thumbup]

Plumbum

Agreed Crab.

What I don’t get is that it seems like the school board forget that the kids bring the virus home to all the adults in the house. The adults in the house then take the virus to work. It’s spawning the pandemic. What are these school leaders thinking??

NewMarketParent

@Crab0721

Exactly. I have been saying this since at least August when it was apparent that we were all going to get treated to a S-SHOW by FCPS.

They simply need to do better. The smartest move right now would be to transition back to hybrid and map out the capacity to do virtual again. We are currently playing a game of chicken with a virus who doesn't give a F@#$ about poultry.

Fredginrickey

[thumbup]

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