School districts across Maryland are committed to in-person learning for the coming school year, but administrators say the course of the coronavirus could have school systems making changes to mask and vaccination requirements.
Superintendents and principals have said they expect the 2021-2022 year could be a bit rocky, and they have asked parents and communities to remain flexible.
In Harford County, the Aug. 16 Board of Education meeting erupted with parents furious over the board’s decision to adopt a mask mandate.
The meeting became so heated that the board cleared the hearing room, and then resumed with speakers coming in one at a time to testify. When speakers were let in, the shouts of angry parents protesting outside could be overheard. Each speaker was allotted two minutes.
Harford County Superintendent Sean Bulson said, “Nobody likes wearing masks. I don’t like wearing masks.” But Bulson said students did a great job complying with mask orders last year.
“There’s a lot of times when you need to tell them to pull it up over their nose, but that’s everybody,” he said.
Just a week before the Harford County school board meeting, Bulson, who also serves as the legislative coordinator for the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland, or PSSAM, told lawmakers that the discussion on vaccination mandates would be difficult.
Since then, three school districts, in Prince George’s, Howard and Montgomery counties, announced that all school employees would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Bulson said that among members of PSSAM, “the general feeling is that we would really like to see this as a state-level conversation.”
Bulson said that in Harford County, “we have not, up to this point, discussed doing a local vaccination mandate like the other districts have done,” adding that it’s hard to predict where things are going to go, but currently, they are not planning for that.
Gov. Larry Hogan recently announced vaccination requirements for hospital and nursing home employees in the state. Hogan had already mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for state employees in correctional facilities and veterans homes.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Hogan was asked if he’d expand those requirements.
“We’re not at the point where we need to mandate the vaccines for the broader audience,” Hogan said.
Bulson said superintendents will be working to address student learning loss, as well as social and emotional issues students may have.
Schools will need to meet students where they are, as some students may have struggled more than others during the pandemic, he said.
He added that there’s a lot to confront, and with the changing nature of the pandemic that happens a week or a day at a time, it is going to be a challenging year, Bulson said.
But, he said, “I’m really excited to be bringing the kids back, and I think our educators are as well.”
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