Teachers, staff and students returned to Frederick County public schools on Tuesday, and now we wait, watch and hope.

The school system and the whole community have been aiming toward this day, and now all of us hope that it was the right decision at the right time. All the signs look good.

For the first time since schools were abruptly shuttered at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, thousands of students returned to classrooms.

For now, the system will operate in a hybrid mode, with groups of students rotating the days they attend in-person learning. About 25 to 35 percent of the student population will be in schools on any given day.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week gave its blessing for schools to reopen, as long as a range of precautions are in place, citing a growing body of evidence that in-person schools can operate safely.

Even if community infection rates were high, the agency said, elementary schools can partially open, and middle and high schools can as well if a strong testing program is in place.

The infection rate here in Frederick County has declined to almost 5 percent of those tested, a much safer range since the alarming peaks above 10 percent in December and January.

The CDC says the most important safety measure for reopening is mandatory and proper use of masks for students, teachers and staffers. It also recommends maintaining six feet of distance between people.

Some critics say the plans are too aggressive and some say they do not go far enough. But at least we know that these recommendations come from the scientists and have not been filtered through the political advisers to President Biden, as CDC guidelines too often were during the Trump administration.

FCPS staff have been preparing for the return of students for several weeks, and their plans seemed to jibe with the recommendations of the CDC, even though the work began before the federal agency made its recommendations.

The county Board of Education was briefed last week by six school principals, who detailed the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, staggered arrival and dismissal strategies and distanced meal time plans.

Jamie Aliveto, executive director of System Accountability and School Administration, told the board the work had been going on for several weeks, with principals being responsible for completing key tasks. Central office employees have also visited every school to make sure that plans are being implemented correctly, Aliveto said.

The principals shared how each of their schools are handling cleaning and disinfecting. Schools have developed individual plans for arrivals, dismissals and transition between classes, based on how their buildings are designed.

Meal plans are also unique to each school. Ballenger Creek Elementary, for example, will have students in the same grade level eating together at socially distant desks in the cafeteria, while other students will eat in their classroom.

Board members asked if teachers would be responsible for breakfast or lunch duty if students are eating in classrooms, and Aliveto said they will. However, she added, because of a higher risk being around unmasked students during these times, teachers will have access to double the PPE.

At this point, parents are still being given the option of having their children return to school or to continue with distance learning at home. FCPS estimated that a bit more than half of all the children will begin with the hybrid model.

It is the first step for the school system, but normal operation is still likely a long way off. Full return of all students and staff to schools will probably have to wait until many more people are vaccinated against the virus.

School administrators and the board members will need to keep a close watch on the data from the community and from the staff and children. We need to be vigilant and flexible as we are making our way to a new normal.

(7) comments

benhem612

Well we had a good streak of 1 day before a reported outbreak in a classroom. At least the snow will allow catoctin high to disinfect and hopefully the students didn't spread it to any other families.

joelp77440

My child went back yesterday. It was a good first day and she was glad to see some of her friends. She told me that the most she had in some of her classes was 6 so it looks like most kids are staying home.

NewMarketParent

One thing of note here is the linchpin to hybrid working successfully is that many parents will keep their kids at home.

NewMarketParent

I'm hopeful that no one gets sick, but all we can do is wait and see. I really hope that the county is transparent with school-related infections as there is a lot of motivation to reclassify (read cover-up) any school-related infections to save face.

Dwasserba

Guess we find out how long we can hold our breath.

Greg F

I still believe this is too soon. There are a lot of people who "hoped" they didn't get sick and die. Hope isn't a vaccine or cure and the odds are equal to those who hope or don't, but better for those who take the science to heart, act responsibly and ensure their own safety as well as acting to assure they don't spread to others. Going for take-out on Valentines day, I saw pretty much everyone not doing that at the one restaurant I went to get food, from people just hanging around (not eating, not drinking) without masks, standing line lines with them off or down off their nose and way too close. I hear it from many that they think that since they got the vaccine, they can do as they please. Nope. You can still get infected and can still spread it. Herd immunity should also come with herd common sense...though the latter is not that common. Until everyone is vaccinated, consider that nobody you meet is vaccinated. That frame of mind will help. I see way too many school-age kids out still not distancing or masking in all manner of situations...and in stores and restaurants (no...I will not eat in until likely fall or later). I see entire families of 3-5 kids walking through Wal-mart...not a mask on the kids even 8-9yr old or so. Same in other places. So....we now have this school thing happening, much like when Vegas wanted to open and be the "control group." Well....3 counties in MD now are the "control group" for everybody. Alban should be ousted. The entire school board should go with her. We now have 500,000 dead people who hoped they didn't die. Many more will come that think the same hopeful thoughts, to no avail. The virus does not care how much hope or faith you have.

gary4books

"We need to be vigilant and flexible as we are making our way to a new normal."

We will see. We have a theory now and it may or may not work.

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