When Prince George’s County, Maryland, Public Schools leaders suddenly announced that the week leading up to winter break, and the two weeks after, would feature virtual learning, they acknowledge it wasn’t a popular decision.
But schools CEO Monica Goldson said the only thing school leaders could do with so many outbreaks spreading around the county was wait it out.
“We stopped the spread of COVID,” Goldson said at an event in Capitol Heights a week after kids returned to the classroom.
Last week, kids were also sent home with antigen rapid tests, with instructions to parents to administer those tests Sunday, ahead of the return to class on Monday morning.
Goldson said that was a success, too, with no tech issues reported.
“Today was the first day where students and parents were back in schools after utilizing” their tests, noted Goldson. “We had over 85,000 tests uploaded into our database and just a few students who tested positive. So as far as I’m concerned, that’s positive, because I never want those sick kids around other students and continue to infect them.”
The county has about 110,000 students taking in-person classes. Parents are being asked to upload test results every Sunday through the end of February.
Goldson said she has hopes that a return to “normalcy” will be possible by the spring, and said increasing vaccination rates will help make that happen.
The county’s health department said about 30% of students between 5 and 9 years old have gotten at least one vaccination shot. About two-thirds of students 10 and up have too.
Overall, more than 94% of the population 12 and up have received at least one vaccination shot. But asked if all that meant the county was also thinking about a future where students didn’t have to wear masks, she said no.
“I have not been thinking about a maskless classroom,” said Goldson. “The only classroom I’ve been thinking about is one where teaching and learning takes places from the time the kids walk in until the time they leave.”
“The only off-ramp I want is the one where COVID no longer exists,” she added. “I don’t think that that off-ramp will exist. I think this is how our life will be for a [while] and we’re showing that we’re adaptable and we can make whatever necessary changes so that we can keep our students learning and safe.”
The decisions made in recent weeks are earning good grades from County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
“We’ve made sound decisions and we feel really good about where we are,” she said. “We think our community supports us in doing everything we can to keep our children safe, keep your teachers and administrators and other staff safe, and that’s really been our priority throughout.”
“We’ve been listening to health officials and we see the results of it,” Alsobrooks added.
Asked about any off-ramp for masking, Alsobrooks was also noncommittal about any imminent change.
“The masks have been our best way of keeping all of us safe, and until and unless we hear otherwise from our health professionals, we’re going to continue to stay the course,” the county executive said. “We’ll see what the science says and we’ll follow it, and if the science says at some point it is safe for us to remove the mask we’ll do that, but otherwise, we’re in no hurry to do anything that jeopardizes the health of our students.”
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