Superintendent’s Open Letter To Community
Over this past week, I have felt compelled to reach out to our school system family. To me, that always includes our students and their families, our teachers and staff, their families, and our Worcester County community at large. I also felt this open letter was the best way to do so, as I wanted to be sure you were receiving my whole message, not just a small sound bite, quote, or social media post.
We know the past few weeks have shined a harsh spotlight on our school system, and for many of you, that has meant that the trust we have tried so hard to build with you has been tested like it never has been before.
Worcester County Public Schools is under this microscope because we find ourselves in the unique situation of remaining open for in-person learning while school systems all around us are closing due to COVID-19 community metrics. This comparison to those around us has led to speculation that we are not being transparent about coronavirus in our schools. As a teacher at heart, I believe the best way to address rumors and speculation is with education based on fact, so I want to take this time to explain the protocols and notification procedures we have established in consultation with health officials and by using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
First and foremost, we value the health and safety of our students and staff above all else. Period. The suggestion that we are not carrying the weight of keeping the thousands of students in our care and the nearly 1,200 employees across our county safe during a pandemic is wholeheartedly not true. However, we know that it is possible to keep our students and staff safe while still providing our families with the option of in-person learning.
To continue to do this, we must rely on everyone to do their part. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 isn’t just the work of the school system; it is the responsibility of every single person in our community. To keep one another safe, we all must commit to the four preventative practices that keep our schools and community safe: wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distancing whenever possible, checking for symptoms each and every day, and staying home when you’re sick.
These four practices are the pillars that have helped protect our students and staff from being exposed to COVID-19 within our schools. We have ensured that all instructional spaces are designed with physical distancing in mind. This coupled with our daily screening tools for students and staff and the mandatory use of face coverings have largely minimized exposure within our schools.
However, we know we are not immune to this pandemic. As students or staff report COVID-19-like illness or symptoms, we continue to conduct thorough contact tracing. Should a positive test result occur, we can readily assist the Health Department in their tracing efforts with accurate and specific data. Additionally, by following our contact tracing protocol, we have been able to pinpoint any exposures, enabling our schools to remain open.
As we continue to navigate this new landscape, I want to address what seems to be at the top of everyone’s minds: our notification procedures for COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness (CLI) in our schools. Just as we protect the health and safety of our students and staff, protecting their privacy is also a top priority. To expand on our contact tracing protocol above, our notification process goes beyond notifying those close contacts. Our protocol calls for us to notify any individuals in the affected cohort of the case. To illustrate with an example, should we have a case in a classroom, the entire class and if the child rode a bus, those groups would be notified of the case, but the communication will differ based on whether they were a close contact or not. This process is one that the Health Department has affirmed as the appropriate way to notify while still respecting the privacy of the ill individual.
If you have any questions about our COVID-19 response protocols, please visit our website homepage, www.worcesterk12.org, which we have redesigned to put information on our protocols right at your fingertips.
Now, I would like to address the concern that has plagued our school system for a significant period of time over the past two weeks: our connectivity. That our internet connectivity experienced outages and slow speeds last week and the week prior was unacceptable, and I genuinely cannot express how sorry we are for the frustration everyone has felt as a result of it. While we believe that this particular outside issue with our provider networkMaryland is near being resolved, this process of investigation has exposed some opportunities for us to further stabilize our technology infrastructure, and we are working hard to design a long-term solution.
Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to thank our teachers. As I often share with them, I have never been so proud of our educators as I am today. They are working harder than ever; they are bridging the divide between our students in-person and those learning from home. They are investing so much of their personal time to better their professional practice, so our students get the very best education possible. They are a source of comfort and stability for our students. They are a voice of reassurance for families. In a word, the teachers in Worcester County are extraordinary.
Next week is American Education Week, a week when we normally celebrate the incredible work of our public schools and teachers nationwide. It also marks the opening of nominations for our annual Teacher of the Year program. So while we are not able to physically welcome you into our schools to celebrate American Education Week, you can show our teachers that you see the challenges before them, that you believe in them, and that you care for and support them. So please, take a moment and celebrate our teachers, during American Education Week, and every day beyond that. They deserve it.
Louis H. Taylor
(The writer is the superintendent of schools for Worcester County Public Schools.)
Election Analysis Response
Before I answer Chismar’s personal attacks I want to take a look at what is true about the election, not a jaundice view. Our Ocean City election had a very low turnout of around 23%, with only 1,528 voters this year, and with only 1,300 voting at the poles. This compares to 2,566 in the 2018 election and 2,485 in the 2016’election sporting declines in voter turnout of 40.5% and 38.5%, respectively, since the last two elections. Ocean City seldom if ever gets above 45% turnout while average national voter turnout is a little above 55%, this election was over 60%, unaffected by COVID. An important question should be why was there such a small turnout this election? Why are small turnouts chronic in Ocean City? Mr. Soper dismisses the low turnout on the separation of national from local elections, the unopposed Mayor and of course COVID. But is that correct?
We will get back to this in a moment. Let’s now take a look at what Chismar’s vituperative attack focused on. He alleges my comments were “troubling,” “liable” and “trashed” certain members. A. John Gehrig was on a three-person committee that included Dennis Dare and Mary Knight. They spent 18 months behind closed doors carving out the second worse deal in the history of Ocean City, the pier franchise ordinance of 2019, tying up once again the most valuable piece of real-estate in Ocean City for 35 more years. To date there has been no accountability, nor consequence for those that crafted the pier ordinance. B. Telling voter’s that Matt James was considering running for mayor than cleverly used that fact to negotiate the council presidency with the mayor, allowing the mayor to run unopposed “it was not a meeting; it was a causal conversation.” The presidency of the council members should have been determined by the new council after the election. C. Statements that Pete Buas is from a rich family, wouldn’t commit to open meetings and had a union member as his campaign manager informed voters on his claim “I am independent.” Just for the record I spent 8-9 hours on election day supporting Pete, Dan and Nico, the three young men I voted for. I also predicted in writing, before the election that Pete would be the high vote getter. Nonetheless, people have a right to know these truthful disclosures. We still don’t know what Pete’s definition of “transparency” is, but we will shortly find out.
The Dispatch’s forum was a good idea but failed to ask members any hard questions about past performance, therefore there was no accountability for their past actions.
Joe Potter has asked the State’s Special Prosecutor to look at the pier ordinance. I have joined his efforts. Vince Gisriel has also been instrumental in producing disclosures of the seamy nature of the 35-year long deal. The mayor was a cheerleader for the pier ordinance. In addition, Lloyd Martin, Matt James, Gehrig, Deluca and Mark Paddack, who came on two months before the vote, were all complicit in adopting the pier franchise ordinance. Why? The voters and taxpayers have a right to know the truth.
Why is Ocean City an anomalous community? Can this help us understand why we have chronic low turnout? A town where there are some of the most competent and sophisticated private businessmen and women that I have ever met. Maybe because; 1. voters only pay 5% of the taxes, 2. most active voters are retired, on fixed incomes and not dependent on the local economy for their livelihoods and 3. The town is dependent on vacationers and highly sensitive to how things appear. Often the truth becomes a causality to appearance.
We cannot afford to sacrifice the truth for appearance sake. Particularly when political actions are deleterious, destructive and costly to the future common good for the Town even if unintended, having profound and negative long-term effects on the town’s future. Politicians must bear a cost and a consequence to bad acts. In Ocean City, the political class seldom receives any consequence for their decisions; sadder still the voters are often unaware. Complete disclosure and transparency are necessary requisites for purposeful government, even when they are contrary to our pristine desire to uphold appearance. Maybe this explains chronically low voter turnout. Mr. Chismar, I don’t see you on the voter role, why?
Had I not supported and had Hagan and Eastman not ran there would have been no election. They came out late and did very well on election day. The larger question should be why were these two young newcomers the only two running? Why was the mayor running unopposed?
If I can help two young men financially and put them on more equal footing with well healed candidates our town will have a contest and we are all better off. Or would you prefer an ordination of your four candidates? Hopefully both Dan and Nico will stay involved. Maybe Emily Nock will return to run for office too.
Oh well Chismar at least you are upfront with your erroneous vituperative attacks and I applaud you for that. Unlike many that greet you when they pass and can’t wait to talk behind your back or worse yet find others to do their attacking for them. Speaking of which will you say hi to our friend the mayor for me?
Ocean City and Falls Church, Va.
Pandemic’s Education Impact
COVID-19 has negatively impacted our students by lowering test scores and increasing racial and socioeconomic disparities, along with exacerbating mental health issues, increasing hunger levels and amplifying financial hardships for families.
While there is no model to precisely gauge how COVID-19 will impact students’ learning, models from absenteeism, teacher strikes and weather-related closures can provide insight. Following teacher protests and Hurricane Katrina, for example, test scores were measurably down, while a Brookings Scholars study showed a dire 40% average loss in reading and mathematics.
This also presents a plethora of issues for students’ mental health, especially when one in five students report issues. Left untreated, they can contribute to difficulty concentrating, higher incarceration rates and lack of job security.
COVID-19 has also exacerbated disparities amongst schools and students, particularly in respects to resources, opportunities and support. Studies show these disparities can unfortunately be inadvertently compounded by parents, where college educated, professionally flexible and financially stable parents are better positioned to counteract accrued learning deficits.
Hunger levels are also rising disproportionality since students are missing school meals, where one in three children are hungry.
Due to the economy and a decline in tax revenue, districts are looking to cut spending by as much as 20% for schools. Regrettably, the majority of these cuts will be targeted towards teachers who make up 85% of public schools’ budget, consequently contributing to larger classes, lower achievement and greater difficulty with social distancing.
Funding will affect low-income districts, as they take into account achievement, district size and location, and are “heavily” reliant on their districts’ and states’ revenue.
The myriad of challenges will require a multi-faceted approach and robust response.
The federal government needs: to simplify Electronic Health Records, leverage initiatives such as ECHO, increase Title I funding and invest in the Individuals with Disability Act.
Schools should provide the DOH with daily data on the number of people who have contracted COVID-19, and a maximum 5% positive test rate should be considered.
As citizens, we must thwart COVID’s cataclysmic impact and provide the human, educational and financial capital needed for students to thrive.