(Jan. 15, 2021) Schools in Worcester County have begun preparations to return to in-person instruction next week after conducting virtual classroom learning during the first two weeks following the winter break.

The classroom closure followed the Worcester County Health Department’s strong recommendation that schools wait to bring students and staff back immediately after the holidays.

Small groups of Worcester County public school students are expected to start in-person instruction on Jan. 19, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor said last Friday.

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Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor observes Snow Hill High School teacher Keith Donoway’s virtual math lesson on Monday when all Worcester County Public Schools faculty and staff returned to campuses. Donoway teaches geometry, calculus and AP calculus for grades ninth through 12th.

As of last Friday, Worcester’s covid-19 positivity rate for testing — the percentage of people testing positive out of all the tests administered — was 13.06. That’s still higher than the state’s rate of 9.16 percent.

The Maryland Department of Health on Monday reported 447 new cases in the county just since Jan. 1.

In his announcement, Taylor reminded families that all faculty and staff at the local public schools received a customized covid-19 training in December.

The county school system also put into place additional supports and precautions last week to bolster comprehensive safety protocols and procedures.

“We have also had lengthy discussions with our local health officials, and with their full support, I am able to announce that our faculty and staff will return to our schools this Monday, Jan. 11, and we will welcome our first small group of students back to our classrooms the following Tuesday, January 19,” Taylor wrote.

“Schools have already made contact with the families of those students in that first wave. I also want you to understand that this timeline relies heavily on no unforeseen circumstances occurring and no major changes in our local covid-19 metrics.”

Approximately 32 percent of students are expected to return to in-person learning on Jan. 19, said Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of public relations and special programs for the county school system.

The superintendent also encouraged families to take responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and others as the schools begin Stage Two of the “Responsible Return” plan.

“Please complete our screening tool honestly each day,” he wrote. “Make sure your child is properly masked; remind them of the importance of keeping a physical distance of 6 feet or more from others; and please keep your child home when sick. I cannot stress to you how important your help is to making sure your child, our teachers, and staff can remain healthy and safe.”

Sterrs added that the screening protocols were developed in consultation with the health department.

The staff at Most Blessed Sacrament School on Racetrack Road in Berlin also urges families to be transparent and take responsibility for keeping students in the classrooms. According to a newsletter last Thursday, parents are required to monitor students and other family members for any covid-19 symptoms each morning.

“If any student, or sibling, or family member is exhibiting any symptoms of covid-19, they should be kept home from school until you are able to speak with the nurse or your physician to determine if follow up and/or testing is required. Do not send any child to MBS if anyone in their family is being tested for covid-19,” wrote Nurse Maureen Mumford.

Families are to update Mumford at attendance@MBSCS.org.

Students and their families are reminded to complete daily health checks and temperature screenings, continue to enforce good hygiene, sanitize regularly, wear masks and social distance when outside of the house.

Most students returned to campus on Monday, but a few are still learning virtually.

As for Worcester Preparatory School on South Main Street in Berlin, students were invited to return to in-person instruction on Monday, but some requested to remain in virtual learning, said Dr. John McDonald, head of school.

“All safety protocols implemented in September remain in place,” McDonald said. “We also continue to communicate with our families regarding CDC and Worcester County Health Department guidelines.”

Faculty and staff conduct temperature screenings daily when students arrive to campus.

“Families are reminded that they should be checking their children before leaving for school, but we do not require documentation,” he said.

Wicomico County Public Schools continued with virtual learning on Jan. 4. Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin announced on Jan. 5, that the Return to School Action Plan would aim to start hybrid learning the week of Feb. 2 for all grades with all school staff returning to campuses as of Jan. 25. Next week, Hanlin will provide updates on the county’s health metrics regarding a safe return to in-person instruction in February.

Somerset County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that in-person learning is now expected to start Jan. 25 because of covid-19 health metrics. A press release stated, “As of today, Somerset County’s 7-day positivity rate is 9.76 [percent] and case rate per 100,000 is 66.92. Both metrics remain above the state recommended benchmarks for safe in-person learning, making the previously revised reopening target of January 19th unattainable.”

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