CENTREVILLE — “Where we stand today concerns me immensely,” Queen Anne’s County Health Officer Dr. Joseph Ciatola told county commissioners, Tuesday, Jan. 12.
“Gentlemen there is no way in my medical opinion, in my ethical opinion, in my moral opinion, that with the current status and the positivity rate in Queen Anne’s County and the fact that we have not been able to appropriately vaccinate our Board Of Education staff and our elderly, and I feel that it is wrong and I advise against opening schools in two weeks,” Ciatola said.
Following Ciatola’s advisement the board of education agreed during the Jan. 13 work session to delay the opening of schools in the hybrid model and remain in Phase I.
The board of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools had previously decided earlier this month to begin hybrid instruction Jan. 28, despite being split on the decision. During that meeting, the board voted 3 to 2 to move ahead with two days a week of in person instruction for those students who wish to participate in this hybrid model. Students will still have the option to remain in the virtual model should they choose.
Members Tammy Harper and Michele Morrissette voted against the motion and Helen Bennett and Marc Schifanelli voted in support with board president Richard Smith’s vote carrying the motion.
Teachers unions have opposed the reopening effort.
A statement in response to the opening of schools by the Queen Anne’s County Education Association and endorsed by the Maryland State Education Association’s Eastern Shore Regional Office stated their opposition “given the local and statewide spike in coronavirus cases...the two Queen Anne’s County School Board members who voted against the motion were right to question the safety and short notice of the plan. Superintendent Dr. Kane was quite clear that she cannot guarantee there are enough bus drivers, teachers and substitutes for a 50% full day hybrid plan.”
“We all want to return to in-person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so. QACEA continues to advocate for the health and safety of both staff and students,” said QACEA President Karen Fields. “On November 18, because the 7-day moving case rate was 25, a decision was made to revert to virtual learning. In spite of that same 7-day moving case rate having more than doubled to 54 as of January 5, the school board decided on January 6 to implement the 50% full day hybrid plan. Now is not the time for such a large-scale return to the classroom when Queen Anne’s coronavirus case numbers are higher than they’ve ever been.”
A number of parents have advocated for a return to school option since September. Demanding a response from QACPS leadership.
“As a former Shock Trauma ICU nurse and now a COVID and Emergency Room nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center, I believe it is only fair to give Queen Anne’s County families the choice to send their children back to school,” parent Ashley Gick said. “I am all about choices in the current pandemic. No one should be forced out of their comfort zone. However, for those who are ready for in-person, hybrid learning, it shouldn’t be taken away from us.”
Gick cited, “Opening schools for in-person learning as safely and quickly as possible, and keeping them open, is important given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning,” (CDC, 2021).
She said she believes just as they practice in the hospital, the 3 W’s are as important in the school setting. Watch your distance, wash your hands, and wear your mask. “With these basic, yet lifesaving interventions, schools can safely open their doors open,” Gick said.
Gick has followed data she believes shows schools can remain open safely. The website, https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/school-resources, shows Outbreak-Associated Cases in Schools across the entire state.
“This dataset reflects public and non-public K-12 schools in Maryland that have COVID-19 outbreaks. Data are based on local health department reports to MDH, which may be revised if additional information becomes available,” (Maryland.gov, 2021). Out of all private schools in Maryland, only 11 have had experienced an outbreak ... Private schools are making it work with many additional safety guidelines. Yet, Queen Anne’s County Public Schools are failing our children and denying them the benefit of in-person learning, said Gick.
Gick said she speaks for other parents who are concerned the at the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education has had nine months since school closed last March to plan and prepare for a safe phased re-opening, she also wants an accounting for the 2 million dollars in CARES Act funding each school in Maryland was provided to assist in safe re-opening. And as of this week, the QACPS website has not updated their ‘Plan to Reopen’ since July 2020, she noted.
“Currently in our county, 33% of 9th graders are failing math,” Gick said, “That statistic is one of the many reasons that convinced the majority of our board members to vote in favor of opening schools with a hybrid model. However, the Queen Anne’s County Education Association, along with Dr. Kane are calling for schools to remain closed. These academic statistics will only worsen, students that used to love school are losing interest, motivation is decreasing and children are falling behind.”
“Parents, teachers and students alike are asking for a choice, not a mandate, for in-person learning. While we do recognize virtual learning was ‘phased-in’ for us to survive, it is now time to move forward with the opportunity to thrive, Gick concluded.