It was refreshing to see members of the Ocean City Mayor and Council smack themselves around a bit for their inabilities to do what they should have done a long time ago. They have every right to be hard on themselves because the city was clearly not ready for what has transpired this June.
Along with the police chief’s comments, another statement that stood out from Monday’s Zoom council meeting came from Councilman Dennis Dare, who was city manager for 21 years before being elected to the council in 2012. Dare said whatever changes the city plans to make must be vetted through the business community before being seriously considered. He said in the past the businesses have shot down major changes the city has proposed.
“After every third week in June, after every Cruisin event, after H2Oi, we have these same conversations. It’s like Groundhog Day,” Dare said. “A number of years ago, like 15 years ago, we were threatened with an unauthorized motor vehicle event coming, then Chief of Police DiPino, a captain and I went to Myrtle Beach because they had an event like this there. The citizens threw out a Mayor and Council and elected ones who were bold enough to take action and they did. That had a big effect on that event. … We spent three days there and they made up a manual for us. We brought that back and we presented 20 some different recommendations. Very few were initially taken because they wouldn’t be well received perhaps. Over the years, we have implemented two maybe three of those events.”
Dare continued, “The second example I want to give before I get to my point several years ago we had a really bad spring Cruisin. At that time, I was chairman of the police commission. We workshopped ideas on how to address this behavior. The police commission was unanimous in its recommendation and brought it before the full Mayor and Council. … As I tried to present it, I was heckled by some prominent business members. All the support that was there disappeared within minutes. My point is if we are going to move forward we are going to be bold and we are going to regain control during some of these events. We are going to need the support of the business community. We certainly have the support of the public … we have to make sure as we move forward on this the business community is involved and committed or we are going to fail again.”
The point here is it will take what Police Chief Ross Buzzuro calls “a holistic approach” when the city becomes overrun with the wrong element. It’s going to happen again in late September with the H2Oi event. As the chief said, “we can’t arrest our way out of this mess.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the authoritative body many businesses and school systems are looking to for guidance when making health and safety recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is the CDC’s recommendations are perfect world scenarios not realistic to apply. Are the CDC’s guidelines binding or advisory? This is a question to be answered especially when it comes to schools.
I read the entire Maryland State Department of Education’s Recovery Plan in May as well as this month’s update. As I read through the plan, I found countless examples of how the CDC says school should look in the fall. If public school systems are mandated to follow the CDC’s guidelines exactly, it’s going to be impossible to reopen with a normal schedule. Small class sizes will require many more teachers or more likely less students allowed at school at any given time. The plan includes a variety of options for students including one-day and two-day rotations of in-person learning with distance learning mixed in on days when students are not at school. Even more staggering is the recommendation for bus transportation for students.
On buses, the plan reads the CDC recommends, “a child sits one to a seat and by alternating the rows in which students sit. For a 77-passenger bus, this would allow for approximately 13 students to be transported. It is understood that by adding social distancing requirement for all riders, the number able to be transported on a 77-passenger bus drops to 8 (not counting the driver). Local school systems may not be able to meet the demands of adherence to CDC recommendations. However, each school system must put into practice, innovative ways to combat the spread of COVID-19. Some examples can be: Encouraging use of face coverings when use of alternate rows for seating is not possible. Allowing siblings from the same household to sit together in the same seat. Recommending passengers sit in the same seat going to and returning from the trip. …”
The key is Maryland, like other states, must grant regional flexibility to school systems. Worcester County does not need to play by the same rules as Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The plan says school systems must post their recovery plans by Aug. 14 on their websites with the MSDE reviewing the documents prior “to ensure that the plans include and address all requirements for opening schools.”
There is much to be decided on the school front, but for any chance at any normalcy in September for this rural area the state must grant local control and give sway to local decision makers. The problem is this has not been how Maryland has handled its reopening. The governor has mandated what can happen with no allowance for going beyond his orders.