Worcester County Public Schools did a solid job this week communicating with the community. After appearing initially to be hesitant to communicate positive COVID-19 tests due to privacy concerns, the system set a solid course this week with its numerous notifications to the individual schools from principals as well as community-wide from the superintendent.
Rumors and speculation are inevitable in these times, but the school system can help control the narrative productively by being transparent to the highest degree possible. Officials clearly get it now and created an online “school status alert dashboard” this week. The dashboard is an excellent resource, as it provides a scale with three different classifications for each school — red light (transitioned to distance learning), yellow light (open with notification of partial transition to distance learning) and red light (all distance learning).
Throughout Gov. Larry Hogan’s press conference Tuesday, many were waiting to hear him drop a mandate regarding schools. It never came, and schools were not even discussed until a reporter’s query. When asked his advice to parents and local school systems on whether to go virtual or remain in schools, Gov. Larry Hogan said this week it’s a local call. He said the Maryland State Department of Education has released its guidelines for best practices for schools and each county must evaluate its own metrics to decide the safest path forward. Though he didn’t say it clearly, it appears Hogan will not be – at this time – be making statewide decisions on schools.
“… The legal authority lies with the school board and they have the right to make these decisions. I think they should continue to follow the advice from the health departments and look at the metrics on the ground where they are,” Hogan said. “In some cases, they have done it very successfully with little or no issues whatsoever. Anytime there’s any kind of an outbreak or a problem they can take quick action.”
This is good news because each school system has different considerations to evaluate with their communities.
It’s been a month since Berlin’s election, the results of which called for a change of leadership at the top with Zack Tyndall receiving 69% of the vote in a five-way race for mayor. It was a not a surprise to see Tyndall win the seat, but the decisiveness of the victory was unexpected with Tyndall receiving 846 votes and the second-place finisher – incumbent Gee Williams – getting just 184. It was a resounding vote of confidence for Tyndall.
It’s been a rollercoaster month for Tyndall. He was sworn into office the week after the election and did a wonderful job recognizing Williams for his 12 years of service as mayor after the swearing-in ceremony. He even organized with a local craftsman for a wooden gavel and sound block – carved from a fallen walnut tree in Berlin – to be created as a gift from the town. Tyndall was gracious in victory and thanked Williams for his leadership, telling him he learned a lot serving under him as a councilman.
The next meeting Tyndall presided over was much bumpier, as it was noted by long-time Councilman Dean Burrell the new mayor was now requiring a second for motions (which is not a big deal) and had done away with the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the meeting. Umbrage was taken mainly because Tyndall made the decisions without consulting with council members or the public. Tyndall said, “the town administrator and I had a discussion and despite our personal beliefs we felt it was time to become more inclusive. Many more people call Berlin home now than they ever have in the past. … I and the town administrator, in conjunction with our legal department, decided that we would just begin the council meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.”
When asked about that call at a merchants meeting last week, Tyndall elaborating on his position, saying he was also concerned about the fact the ACLU has successfully sued municipalities about prayer in government meetings with towns having to fight a costly legal battle. At that same meeting, Tyndall was also questioned about his decision to remove the “America’s Coolest Small Town” mention from town letterhead and his personal business cards. He said he is fine with the town continuing to use the title for its marketing, but he felt like it was time to move forward in some fashion. Tyndall was also questioned at that meeting about marketing the town’s holiday event coming up on Black Friday. The mayor doesn’t want the town to market events to draw crowds but was fine with promoting the shopping aspect through banners and acquiesced to a request for the carriage rides to resume. Tyndall showed a compromising approach to address concerns from the business community, which has clearly been crippled by the pandemic. At that meeting the mayor was also asked if he was okay being in the paper for negative reasons every week. Tyndall responded, “That’s kind of the job. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, but I’m not here to favor public opinion all the time. I’m here to represent the public, the business community, and I take that job seriously. But I don’t have all the answers. And I’m sure we’ll stumble along the way. We’re together in this for four years and we’re three weeks in.”
I think Tyndall is doing a commendable job, but there’s no question it’s been a controversial first month. Berlin voters wanted change. They got just that.