The Frederick County Board of Education will be briefed Wednesday on plans to have the school system operate under a hybrid model as it moves toward the next phase of reopening schools.
The plans, which were recently published on the BoardDocs website, answer questions about transportation, classroom spacing and procedures for if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
FCPS staff is recommending the implementation of a step-by-step hybrid model which will see groups of students brought back into buildings in phases — as long as health metrics continue to trend positively.
A hybrid model means students would split their week between virtual learning at home and attending class in-person. Students would most likely be split into groups and be assigned days on which they would attend class in-person.
Under the proposed plan, students in pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and first, second, sixth, and ninth grades would come back to buildings first. Other grades would follow in future steps.
It is unclear at this point when FCPS would begin the progression, but any move into a hybrid model would require at least a four-week transition and planning period, according to FCPS staff. These four weeks include a two-week notification period for teachers, which is required under an agreement between the board and the Frederick County Teachers Association.
The published operational plans explain how students will arrive and move through schools each day they are participating in in-person learning. Parents will be required to fill out a daily health check for students before sending them to school and there will be separate drop-off locations at each school for walkers, buses and cars. Students will be required to wear face masks while in the building and disposable masks will be provided if a student forgets theirs or if school staff determine that the face-covering being used is not adequate.
Hand sanitizer will be available in each classroom, desks will be placed six feet apart, and restrooms will be monitored to prevent a congregation of students.
For lunch and recess, students will either eat in their classrooms or in the cafeteria with socially-distant seating. Self-contained grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches will be available and water fountains will only be open to refill personal water bottles.
Students will be required to either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after eating as well as before and after recess. Students will be allowed to remove their face masks during recess if it is outdoors and if social distancing can be maintained.
Schools will go through daily cleanings and restrooms and frequently touched surfaces will be disinfected throughout the day. According to the published plan, FCPS is currently using a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to combat COVID-19.
At the board's previous meeting, Michael Markoe, deputy superintendent for FCPS, said the health department was "struggling" to fill vacancies for school nurses within FCPS. These positions will be critical if students or staff members begin to present symptoms of the virus while in school.
"If we are unable to fill those vacancies staff certainly doesn't believe it's prudent to send our students back if we don't have health staff in our health rooms," Markoe told the board at their last meeting.
In an email to the News-Post, Markoe said that as of Tuesday, there were still "four to six unfilled school nursing positions."
No more than 24 students will be permitted to ride a school bus. Siblings may sit together, but otherwise, students will be required to sit one to a seat and must wear masks while riding.
Bus windows will be open to the maximum extent when the weather permits and buses will be cleaned by drivers at the conclusion of each run. Markoe said drivers have been provided the necessary supplies and training to properly clean and disinfect.
If students or staff have symptoms, are awaiting test results, have tested positive, or have been in close contact with a confirmed case, they will be expected to stay home. Parents will be expected to notify school staff as soon as they are aware that their child has tested positive or has been in close contact with someone who has.
A student who tests positive must stay at home for at least 10 days before returning to school. They must also have no fever for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication. If the student is asymptomatic, they will still be required to stay home for at least 10 days following the positive test.
If a student or staff member was in close contact with a possible case, they will be required to stay home for 14 days since the last contact with the positive individual unless that individual tests negative or receives a different diagnosis.
If a student presents symptoms of COVID-19 while in the school building, they will be evaluated by the school's health staff in a designated isolated space. Parents/guardians will be notified and students and all their siblings, regardless of whether they attend the same school or present symptoms, will be required to be picked up, taken home, and further evaluated by medical professionals. Students who present symptoms will be required to be picked up within 30 minutes.
Students will be required to isolate at home until they receive test results or until a note is provided from a medical professional approving their return to school.
A survey conducted by FCPS found that only 33 percent of school-based staff are "very comfortable and/or comfortable" moving to a hybrid model.
According to documents, 3,519 school-based staff were surveyed on everything from their comfort level returning to buildings to how they feel about the virtual learning model.
Ninety-two percent of staff felt like they have been able to implement the virtual learning model successfully, but only 52 percent felt they were meeting all the academic needs of students. Only 29 percent of staff surveyed said they did not feel overwhelmed by the demands of virtual learning.
About 20,000 parents were also surveyed by FCPS. More than 70 percent of parents said their child is able to access course materials easily and that they are being appropriately challenged, but only 51 percent of parents said their child enjoys virtual learning. However, 62 percent of parents said their child does not feel overwhelmed by the demands of virtual learning.
Parents were also asked which model of learning they would choose for their child if a hybrid model was implemented, and 67 percent said they would choose the hybrid model.
After the board hears the proposed plan by the FCPS on Wednesday, it is possible they may take a vote. Board President Brad Young said in a text message that he is in favor of the school system beginning to move into a hybrid model. When asked when he thinks the phase-in should begin, he said he hasn't decided, but he thinks it should begin for the youngest learners sooner than later.