Families react to latest push for reopening schools

Posted at 6:48 PM, Jan 21, 2021

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — "It’s a step in the right direction and I think we are all excited about the support. I think we are finally feeling heard," said Harford County parent Nicole Hayes.

With Thursday's announcement that school systems should work to reopen by March, a bit of hope is restored for families fighting for kids to be back in the classroom, but they are still worried because the decision is ultimately left up to local school boards and superintendents.

"I really wont relax until I actually see the plans being implemented," said Baltimore County parent Amy Adams.

All Maryland school systems have approved reopening plans, but some counties, like Harford and Baltimore, did not move forward with reopening because positivity and case rates have been higher than the guidelines set by the state departments of health and education.

"Taking the lead from those two statewide agencies is one that we feel is a good position to have because these are the two agencies that are driving not only education but the health across our state," said BCPS community superintendent George Roberts, ahead of today's press conference.

BCPS had hoped to start reopening next month— but won't because of current metrics.

"If those were to change form the state level then we would evaluate our position but working closely with our Baltimore County Department of Health and their recommendations," said Roberts.

But not far away, two counties, Carroll and Cecil, are already open in some way.

"It’s going a lot better that way for him. He’s very excited to be back," said Cecil County mom Elise Ivarsson.

Her son with special needs is one of 5 percent of students that were brought back for in-person learning earlier this month.

"For him specifically, it helps both socially and academically to be one-on-one because while being virtual for some kids is not ideal, for kids with special needs it’s just impossible," said Ivarsson.

"We knew we could do it safely because we had done it safely for so long," said Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson.

It's the second time they have done this during the pandemic with no documented instances of in-school transmission.

"What we’ve continually monitored since September is to what extent is our schools the origin of community spread and what we are finding is they tend to know be the origin of community spread," said Lawson.

Ivarsson's 6th grader Liam went back last fall when they gradually brought back even more students, and he hopes to go back again soon.

"It was fun actually being able to go back into a school and no have to sit at home," said Liam. "When I saw every kid come in the school, we were all safe. We all maintained our social distancing, everything. It was no problem."

Dr. Lawson's advice to counties looking to reopen: "Be bold and try. You can’t wait until you are assured 100% success before you try something. You have to try knowing sometimes you might fail."

Just over the border in Pennsylvania, schools have also been open for months.

In order to stay open, they have to officially attest to the Pennsylvania Department of Education they are following a Universal Face Coverings order and close down schools when cases reach a certain number outlined by the state.

Families hope with this new push by the governor, Maryland school systems will bring all the kids back who want to be in person despite the current transmission rates.

"We are doing a disservice to our public school child because our neighboring friends and family are getting a different education; and our neighboring counties and our neighboring states," said Hayes.

"I don’t feel like I’m learning. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything," said Camden, her 4th grade son, about his experience with virtual.

The announcement Thursday included an updated reopening guide that says "Some degree of in-person learning should be the immediate goal for all students in all jurisdictions," and outlines two options for phasing in in-person learning, replacing the health recommendation from August that kept a lot of school systems closed.

A spokesman from Baltimore County said they will review the announcement and adjust their reopening plan accordingly. Cecil County is monitoring metrics to determine a possible return date for more students.

Harford County Superintendent Sean Bulson released a statement Thursday evening about the announcement: "Harford County Public Schools will evaluate the updated guidance from the state on how best to reopen schools in accordance with the Governor’s expectations. The guidance indicates that students returning to in-person learning will need to do so while maintaining social distancing and other public health guidelines and precautions.
This new guidance is a vast departure from the guidance that was in place prior to today. We had no advance notice of the extent of these changes, so we will need some time to consider the impact they will have on our plans moving forward."