NEWARK – Worcester County’s public schools will welcome some students back to classrooms Monday, Jan. 4.
Though local COVID-19 figures are on the rise, Worcester County Public Schools will open schools to a targeted group of students Monday. Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor said in a message to parents this week that the reopening comes after comprehensive staff training in December, when students were engaged in distance learning.
“In light of this robust training, we feel confident that our schools are well-positioned to continue our transition to Stage Two of our Responsible Return on January 4,” Taylor said in Tuesday’s message. “As you know, Stage Two means our schools will welcome back our first small, targeted group of students back to in-person learning. Schools have already made contact with those families whose students have been asked to return.”
Worcester County kicked off its school year virtually but started bringing small groups of students back Sept. 28. The school system returned to all distance learning abruptly in mid-November, however, and that continued until winter break.
When in-person instruction was halted in mid-November, elevated health metrics associated with COVID-19 were cited as the reason. On Nov. 15, the county’s daily positive rate was 6.43% (statewide was 6.45%) and 21.8 was the seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 people (statewide was 28.2). The key metrics have dipped and surged over the last month, reaching a daily positivity percentage low of 3.69% on Nov. 26 and a peak this week.
As of Wednesday, Worcester County’s daily positivity percentage was 13.79% (statewide 8.22%) and the cases per 100,000 was at 50.29 (statewide 37.01). Wednesday’s positivity percentage rate is the highest its been in Worcester County since May 9 when it was 14.62%.
In an early December interview with The Dispatch, Taylor indicated the state’s recommendation that school systems reevaluate return plans or in-person learning when the positivity rate was above 5% and the new case rate exceeded 15 per 100,000, was just that — a recommendation.
“…it’s not a directive. It’s something that’s kind of put out there for us to keep an eye on,” Taylor said then. “I also work very closely with the health department and get their feedback as we’re making decisions to bring our kids back as well. There are suggested measurements out there, but we try to do what’s best for our kids, given all the circumstances that surround this pandemic.”
During December, school system staff at each school returned for in-person COVID-19 training.
“During the entire month of December, we dedicated an enormous amount of resources to facilitate comprehensive, continued trainings for every teacher and staff member in our schools,” Taylor said in this week’s message. “These trainings were position-specific and designed to ensure that every person in our school system continues to know their role and responsibility in keeping themselves, their colleagues, and of course, our students, as safe as possible.”
Taylor went on to say that the school system would consult with local health officials and “regularly examine health and safety conditions to determine when those next waves of students may be able to return.”
“Also, as in-person learning begins once again next week, I want to share with our high school students that we will also continue with our plan for extracurricular activities,” he said. “You will receive specific information from your coach or advisor on what that will look like for your sport or activity. Lastly, I want you to know that I plan to update families weekly on the status of our Responsible Return, with my next update scheduled for January 8. Until then, please make sure that you are being safe, so we can return more students back to school soon. Wear your masks, keep that physical distance, be sure to stay home when sick, and please get tested if you experience any symptoms of COVID-19.”
Hours before Taylor made the announcement that Worcester County would reopen schools Jan. 4, Somerset County Public Schools extended the start of in-person learning there to Jan. 11 due to COVID-19 rates.
“As of today, Somerset County’s 7-day positivity rate is 12.15% and case rate per 100,000 is 63.02,” a press release reads. “Both metrics remain above the state recommended benchmarks for safe in-person learning, making the previously revised reopening target of January 4th unattainable.”
In Wicomico County, an announcement will be made around Jan. 4 on whether health metrics will allow the school system to bring some students back to in-person learning Jan. 19 as planned.