Md. school superintendent: Schools can safely open during pandemic with ‘guard rails’

Maryland’s Superintendent of Schools on Tuesday said with the appropriate “guard rails,” Maryland schools are safe to open.

Superintendent Karen Salmon said with mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and cleaning protocols, schools can make a safe transition back to buildings.

“The student infection rate is less than the community rate and schools have not been super-spreader sites,” Salmon said, during a Maryland State Board of Education meeting.

She also said the lack of in-person instruction is leaving the most underserved children even more vulnerable.

“We have seen significant negative impacts,” Salmon said.

“The lack of in-person instruction is starkly reinforcing the inequities embedded in our society, and continuing the perpetuation of achievement and learning gaps, leaving our most underserved children even more vulnerable,” she said.

Salmon and the head of the state’s health services Dr. Jinlene Chan presented research about infection rates in schools on Tuesday.

In addition to returning to school, Salmon is requesting that teachers, school staff and early child care workers receive the vaccine as first priority in the plan for essential employees.

During the meeting, Chan reviewed how the Maryland Department of Health is supporting local health departments with school outbreaks, prevention and investigation, and response.

She pointed to the availability of the weekly dashboard showing infections at schools and the weekly calls she has with Salmon and local school system superintendents to further discuss and interpret guidance as needed.

“Several studies have suggested that COVID-19 transmission in schools is low, especially for younger students, when mitigation strategies are effectively implemented. Experience in other states have shown that students can return safely to school in limited numbers,” Chan said.

“We must balance the overall health and well-being of the state’s school children and the need for them to be in school as the response to the ongoing pandemic continues.”

Salmon said that the Maryland State Department of Education reviewed all 24 local system reopening plans so that schools could prepare for successful in-person instruction.

To address resources that were discovered as needed, the education department distributed $400 million in CARES Act funding to assist with technology, supplies, materials and equipment. The department is working closely with local school districts to provide personal protective equipment including more than 2 million masks, 200,000-plus face shields, 57,000 containers of hand-sanitizer, gowns and gloves.

“Although the fall version of the remote education appears improved and some students are back for some in person instruction, millions of children are still learning from home,” Salmon said. “This set up privileges children who have quiet places to work, parents at home to help and reliable internet service. Many of those who don’t have these advantages continue to struggle.”

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