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DJS staff asking to go virtual as COVID-19 cases spike

Posted at 10:23 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 23:24:16-05

Department of Juvenile Justice Teachers are still working in classrooms with students, despite the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Spokespersons for The Maryland State Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Services said they are following all safety protocols to protect staff and students.

They said they're also monitoring conditions daily to make their decisions on staffing.

The educators working inside the buildings say there are a lot things that could be handled better.

Sharon Joseph is a Counselor at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.

She said the department has denied every educator who has applied to telework.

She pointed to the Governor's news conference two weeks ago when he said all state employees who can telework, should do so to help stop the spread of the virus.

“Even if in good faith we accept that DJS is doing everything to protect us in that environment, because they control the building even though we work for MSDE, I don’t think that 53 positive cases over the span of 5 months is a safe environment," Joseph said.

Eric Solomon, a spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Services directed WMAR to their stats that were updated on Monday.

Showing that 21 of the of the 23 students who tested positive across all the facilities have been cleared from isolation.

While 91 of 142 staff members were cleared to resume working.

He also said they are using surveillance videos to help identify exposure.

When public schools first closed the DJS staff continued in person for about two weeks.

Between the end of March and the middle of June they could telework.

“We were back I believe it was nine days and there were multiple positive cases, so we returned to telecommute until August 16th," Joseph said. "We were given 12 hours' notice that we were returning and have been back ever since.”

Paul Henderson is a teacher at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.

“I caught COVID coming into school to teach," Hendersons said. "When I went out of school, I took my ten days, and I came back to teach again. A lot of teachers are doing the same thing. We’re dedicated to the job we just want to do it safely.”

He said he and his fellow educators have a tough job in normal times, but being in the classrooms now is not only difficult but unsafe.

“On a regular day it’s hard to teach here," Henderson said. "When you feel like you’re getting a little bit short changed or your dedication is taken a little bit for granted people get frustrated and morale is low.”

Solomon said they are working with the Dept. of Education to upgrade the IT Systems, "To deliver a more interactive virtual learning environment and are nearing a completion of that project”.