Leaders in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County public school system are exploring the idea of bringing more students back into classrooms this year, while at the same time watching a rise in the number of coronavirus cases among teachers and students.
Since March 1, there were over 350 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county school system, with dozens of new cases reported in the last two weeks.
It’s a trend Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent George Arlotto called “concerning” at a school board meeting on Wednesday.
But Arlotto stressed it didn’t appear as if those cases were spreading among students and staff inside school buildings.
He said it affects just a small percentage overall of the more than 32,000 students who have switched back to some in-person instruction this spring.
“Are there concerns? Absolutely,” said Arlotto. “I’m concerned with students and staff contracting a deadly virus. Yes. Are we contemplating closing schools or the school system at this stage? The answer is no,” he said.
In recent weeks Arlotto said most quarantine cases have been isolated, though there have been instances where an entire class and even an athletic team had to be sent home on quarantine because of close contacts.
“We remain in touch daily with the department of health. There are no recommendations from the department of health for us to close a school or the school system,” he added.
Thousands of students have returned to classrooms since the first students started going back on March 1, while only a few hundred have opted out.
“We have pushed out one last survey for parents, [asking] should they wish to have their child moved from fully virtual to the hybrid environment for in-person learning two days per week,” said Arlotto.
“We are also asking those currently in the hybrid format if they would like to move two days per week to four. This information will help guide us through the remaining steps to reopening for the school year.”
Nearly 400 special needs students in the county are already back to four days per week, with more set to join them over the next week.
Arlotto said by May 10, some of those parents being surveyed now could also see their kids back in school buildings four days per week.
But the superintendent made clear he wants his concerns about the coronavirus shared by everyone else, too.
“I want us to be worried about it and the community worried about it collectively,” said Arlotto.
“Because what’s happening in the community is being brought into the school and if we act accordingly in the community we can all do our part to keep the schools open.”