Wicomico Parents Beg School Board To Allow Full In-Person Return

SALISBURY – As hybrid in-person learning continues in Wicomico County, some parents are calling on school system leaders to have students return to the classroom full time.

More than 100 people attended a virtual school board meeting Tuesday, where parents of Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) students urged officials to return to traditional instruction.

“We’re pleading with you to open five days a week,” parent Andrew Hade said. “That’s what we want. We won’t accept anything less than that. We’re not going to go away. Our kids deserve it.”

In February, Wicomico County students transitioned back to hybrid in-person learning – with two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual learning – as part of the school system’s Return to School Action Plan.

But as school systems in surrounding counties return to full-time, in-person instruction, some WCPS parents urged officials this week to follow suit.

“We are at a point right now, between CDC guidelines and our local health department, to open our schools full time, five days a week,” parent Darren Lombardo said.

Parent Melissa Stover agreed. She pointed out that her son’s classroom had no more than five students in attendance during days of in-person instruction.

“If that few kids are participating in in-person learning, why aren’t we given the choice to go four days instead of just two? And when will we get to five days of instruction?” she said. “To this date, students have missed 23 days of instruction for the school year, and I know my child is not the only child in the county that has suffered academically, emotionally, physically and mentally.”

Parent Eden Hade, representing a countywide parent advocacy group, called for the school board to immediately release its reopening plan for the spring and fall semesters and to return students to school for five days of instruction. She argued virtual instruction did not work for students and working parents.

“They’ve witnessed WCPS schools remain closed, in spite of the millions of CARES dollars that were funneled into WCPS to help finance the safe reopening and recovery plans,” she said. “Virtual learning is, and continues to be, discriminatory against working parents who had to find childcare accommodations while they worked in industries that are open while schools remain closed.”

Hade, a high school educator, also urged school leaders to offer milestone events for this year’s graduating class. She noted Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent announcement increasing capacity at indoor and outdoor venues made it possible to offer in-person activities.

“Today WCPS’s senior students and parents had a glimmer of hope for a chance at normalcy …,” she said. “Please give these seniors the remainder of their senior year. Please give these seniors their grand march, their senior proms, spectators at their games, Rock and Roll Revival, and in-person graduation, and all those things that left large voids in their young lives.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donna Hanlin told community members this week two school systems – Worcester and Somerset – had returned to five days of in-person learning. But she noted that Wicomico was not yet ready to do the same.

“Believe me we want to be there,” she said, “but we are going to do it safely, and we are going to do it according to CDC guidelines.”

Hanlin noted the challenges of returning to five days of instruction in Wicomico, which she noted had a larger student population.

“The reason Worcester and Somerset, and to some extent Garrett, has been able to do what they are doing with five days a week, doesn’t have to do with any additional planning or any harder work on their part. It has to do with their small enrollment, their small class sizes, and their larger classrooms,” she said. “We have 15,000 students in our system, and we have the responsibility to not only educate them but keep them safe. We fully recognize face-to-face learning is the optimal way for students to learn, and we want that to happen, but we just have to make sure we do it safely.”

Hanlin said the school system hopes to return to traditional learning in the fall, though officials are planning for all scenarios. She added that in-person graduation ceremonies would likely occur this spring, though plans for prom are still being discussed.

“With the governor’s new executive order, with 50% capacity whether it’s inside or outside, we are very confident we will hold traditional graduations this year,” she said. “We are finalizing whether that will be inside or outside … but we are considering all options because we still have the civic center reserved.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.