ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — School is back in Anne Arundel County. Well, kind of.
On Wednesday, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education adopted a staggered hybrid plan that will send some students back to school in November. The track is optional, so students can continue distance learning if they prefer.
Students in pre-K though second grade can start hybrid classes on Nov. 16. Early Childhood Intervention, a youth special education program, also moves into a hybrid model the same day.
The remaining elementary schoolers can begin hybrid learning on Nov. 30. Teachers will return to the classroom on Nov. 2 to start streaming lessons.
Students taking hybrid classes will be split into two groups. One group will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. The other will head to school on Thursdays and Fridays.
These students will learn remotely on the remaining three days. Teachers and students must work from home on Wednesdays while schools undergo a deep clean.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools will reach out to families on Oct. 9, explaining how to indicate whether their child will start hybrid classes. Families can chose from:
- A hybrid model
- A year-long distance learning plan
- A half-year virtual instruction track with the option to adopt the hybrid route in February of 2021
More information about each option is available at this webpage. Families must submit their choice by Oct. 15.
For the time being, classes will remain online for middle and high schoolers. School officials said they hope to return these older students to the classroom by mid-December.
AACPS’s developmental and specialty centers opened at limited capacities to start the school year. Wednesday’s move allows these sites to gradually welcome more students back to the classroom.
Some students in the English as a Second Language program have been in school for a month. These students will continue to return in waves, according to the board’s plan.
Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman reviewed the proposal and offered strict coronavirus guidelines. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health approved the phased reopening, AACPS said in press release.
Despite this permission, teachers are unhappy with the plan. Educators say they have been excluded from reopening discussions.
“If teachers had been provided much of the information regarding changes with even a day or two to process and offer feedback, we might not be where we are today,” Russell Leone, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, wrote on Facebook. “Teachers [are] feeling mistrust, disrespected, and anxiety for their safety.”
The union expressed its concerns two weeks ago at a press conference held across the street from AACPS’s Riva headquarters. On Wednesday night, the teachers rode in a car caravan past the board’s office. The union members honked their horns in dissent and demanded that the county establish a clearer safety policy.
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School officials claim they have always proceeded with caution. They point to the already-opened specialty centers as evidence that in-person instruction can be successful.
“The local public health climate reflects more favorable conditions to support the transition to in-person instruction,” AACPS said on its reopening page.
The board says more information will be available on its website by Oct. 9.
Coronavirus Statistics Update
The most recent data clock Anne Arundel County’s positivity rate at 3.37 percent, which is 0.58 percent higher than the statewide clip. The county’s positivity rate hit its pandemic low of 2.29 percent on Aug. 16. After jumping to a recent high of 4.45 percent on Sept. 7, the rate started to settle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says municipalities should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent. When counties hit this mark, Maryland health leaders say it is likely safe to return to schools for hybrid instruction.
Though Anne Arundel met the positivity rate recommendation, school officials still started the fall semester with online classes for most students. AACPS previously committed to distance learning for the first two marking periods.
The state challenged AACPS’s initial decision to remain online. Hogan recently urged schools to start considering a hybrid model. AACPS responded by reaffirming its immediate commitment to remote learning while also speeding up its plans for eventual hybrid classes.
Some students, like those in special education and English language programs, started their year under the hybrid model. Seeing their success, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman teased a universal hybrid strategy.
“My goal first and foremost in all of this is to save lives,” Pittman said at his town hall on Sept. 15. “We’re still at-risk and we still have people that are likely to die from this. We want to save as many lives as we can.”
Anne Arundel County has been under the 5 percent benchmark since June 22. The local positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
While the jurisdiction meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the state’s infections-per-capita marker. State health officials say municipalities should aim for less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people. When an area hits this case rate goal, the state says it is probably safe to reopen the district’s schools for expanded in-person learning.
Anne Arundel County’s case rate has aligned with Maryland’s trends. It hit an initial peak of 13.84 on June 3 before receding to its minimum of 3.53 by June 26.
A second surge spiked Anne Arundel’s case rate to its overall peak of 14.26 on Aug. 2. Infections quelled by Aug. 20, dropping the case rate to 6.93.
After a brief downturn, another wave accelerated the county’s infections. The case rate hiked to 12.78 on Sept. 18. Nine days later, the case rate fell to 8.56, but it has already returned to 10.11. That’s double the requirement to return to expanded in-person instruction.
The county must average less than 28.96 new coronavirus infections-per-day over a rolling week to meet the state’s per-capita suggestion. Anne Arundel County has averaged 55.14 new cases-per-day during the last seven days.
Anne Arundel has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 10,572. The virus has killed 242 county residents.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have seen a downswing recently. The virus had 21 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital on Sept. 27. That was the fewest since April 3 when 21 locals were hospitalized.
Wednesday saw 43 hospitalizations. That’s the most since Aug. 7.
Fewer than 50 coronavirus patients have been in the hospital at a time since June 14. The county’s recent high of 49 hospitalizations came on July 24. More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic’s April 21 peak.
“We’re all a little bit wary of this pandemic,” Pittman said at the town hall. “We all just wish it would go away.”
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