Howard County limits gatherings, schools to pare back in-person learning

Howard County Public Schools is rolling back its limited in-person learning starting Thursday, the school system announced Monday. County Executive Calvin Ball also announced tighter limits on in-person gatherings.

A letter to parents and guardians about the suspension of all “in-person opportunities” cited “rapidly increasing health metrics across the county,” including a test positivity rate of 5% and a case rate per 100,000 of 19 new cases a day.

“These metrics push HCPSS into a much higher risk of COVID-19 being spread in our school buildings,” the letter stated.

Though the vast majority of students in Howard County have been in virtual-learning mode since the start of the school year, small groups of special needs students had returned to some classrooms for in-person learning.

Some of the in-person learning programs are for students with significant disabilities, and another provided services for students who are teen parents.

Starting Thursday, all learning will be “fully virtual,” the school system said. The earliest that the limited in-person opportunities will return is Dec. 3, the school system said. That means a plan to return even more students receiving special education services on Nov. 30 will also be delayed.

The school system will reevaluate health metrics on Nov. 30 and will release a plan for returning limited in-person learning “as soon as the health environment allows.”

In addition, the SAT exam scheduled for Dec. 5 and the ACT exam scheduled for Dec. 12 have been canceled.


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There will be no change to grab-and-go meal services offered on school days. A list of locations is posted online.

Last week, the school system suspended in-person athletic conditioning, which was supposed to start Monday.

Earlier Monday, Howard County leaders increased restrictions on gatherings, citing a “rapid increase” in COVID-19 cases.

“I’m announcing new advisories that limit indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people, and outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people,” Ball said at a press conference Monday.

 

Contact tracers for the county have found the majority of new cases are linked to small get-togethers among family and friends, he said.

“As we approach Thanksgiving, it is vital we act swiftly to stop this spike in cases, keep our residents safe and well, and continue to support our business community,” Ball said of the limitations.

Howard County follows neighboring Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, whose leaders announced similar restrictions last week.

Other school systems in the D.C. area have also announced plans to temporarily halt in-person learning amid a regionwide spike in coronavirus cases. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools announced Monday it would delay plans to bring back thousands more students, including Head Start, pre-K and kindergarten students.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report. 

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