My kids are each in the classroom every day – one in private school and the other in public school. I consider them lucky because in-school instruction is far better than virtual no matter how skilled and magnificent the teachers. However, they are in school with the inherent understanding there is a risk associated with it.
Most parents understand this and that’s why a majority favor their kids being in school. In Worcester County, another wave of students will return to school next week, increasing further the current 36% of the student body enrolled for in-person instruction. Each school within the county will be bringing back different volumes of kids based on their ability to social distance in the classroom. The county’s second phase of reopening calls for bringing additional children back in two-week increments so long as certain standards are met. The concept being to continue to cautiously move forward rather than backwards.
Regressing would appear to be exactly what has happened in Dorchester County where the public school system has returned to the first phase of its reopening plan – virtual only. The county’s positivity rate of 6.1% has more than doubled in two weeks. The county had previously been operating under a hybrid system with groups of students rotating between in-person and at-home learning. A majority of the student body was still working from home before this week’s announcement with only pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, sixth graders and ninth graders rotating through a hybrid system of in-person and distance learning throughout the week.
It’s a disappointing turn of events for that school system as well as the families, and it’s unclear if positive cases inside the school helped lead to the decision. It appears to be more of a community-wide situation than a school-based outbreak. When a confirmed spike occurs, temporary restrictions for the community are needed. As far as schools go, however, it should not be a shock when positive COVID cases are reported in our schools. It’s inevitable, but it’s the safety protocols in place – namely facial coverings, social distancing, parental discretion to monitor their kids’ symptoms and sanitation measures – that should allow these school systems to remain open under most circumstances.
There may be intermittent closures to regroup and clean and even quarantine certain classes and grades in some cases, but our school leaders must continue to press forward with the health department’s assistance to stay open armed with the knowledge the best place for the students is inside school buildings. The biggest challenge is how to offer the greatest number of students the opportunities for in-person instruction while following the recommendations for best practices, namely social distancing on buses and inside the classrooms. It’s a daunting task, one many school systems will never be able to overcome under the current six-foot restrictions. Wicomico County falls under this category with its 25 schools and 15,000-plus students. It’s why Wicomico’s best-case scenario at this time calls for a hybrid system for all grades by Feb. 1. Hybrid means something different for each school system, but for Wicomico it means two days a week of in-person instruction followed by three days of online learning.
Worcester County has not gone into that much detail with its re-opening phases for its 6,600-plus students and its 14 schools, but it could look similar based on social distancing requirements as well as the challenges of transporting the students on buses. These are incredibly complicated challenges, but the efforts are all worthwhile so long as they are geared toward bringing back as many kids as safely possible.
This week’s forum for Ocean City candidates served as a confirmation to me there is one seat truly up for grabs on Nov. 3. Long-time Mayor Rick Meehan and incumbent Councilmen Tony DeLuca and John Gehrig acquitted themselves exceptionally well during the forum as expected. As incumbents, they possess a strong familiarity with the issues and their knowledge was more than evident. Local attorney Peter Buas also did well and will bring a fresh perspective to the council. Recent history proves Ocean City voters like new faces, as first-time candidates Matt James and Gehrig carried the ticket in their first runs on the council in 2014 and 2016 (James repeated the feat in 2018). I predict Buas will do equally well this time around.
With DeLuca, Gehrig and Buas likely to gain seats, the final spot on the council will likely go to either Frank Knight, husband of current Councilmember Mary Knight, or Nico Eastman. Voters will have to decide if they want a significant change for that last seat (represented by Eastman) or more of the same views (represented by Knight). Whatever direction voters go in less than two weeks we encourage them to fill out their entire ballot, casting four votes for all the open council seats.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan looked like a fool writing in a dead person for president. It shows a lack of mettle on his part. Hogan voted for his deceased father four years ago and Ronald Reagan this year in an absentee ballot. Hogan told The Washington Post, “I know it’s simply symbolic. It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office.” It’s a ridiculous waste of a vote in an election.