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*UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon after Ocean City Today went to press WCPS Superintendent Lou Taylor announced that the county public schools will remain in distance learning until Jan.4. *

(Nov. 20, 2020) All public schools in Worcester County returned to distance learning Monday, as the number of positive tests for covid-19 locally mirrored an overall rise in cases in the state. The reimposition of the remote learning program will remain in effect until Dec. 1.

“As outlined in the guidance provided by the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Department of Education, our leadership team has been closely following the community statistics for covid-19,” Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Lou Taylor wrote to families on Sunday.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, the daily positivity rate of Worcester County on Sunday was 6.43 percent and 21.86 cases per 100,000.

“These numbers are above the metrics these agencies have recommended for a reexamination of our ‘Responsible Return,’” Taylor continued.

All after-school activities and athletics will be virtual until Dec. 1 as well.

“We will be monitoring our community statistics closely throughout this two-week period, and we will communicate to you any changes to our return as soon as decisions are made,” Taylor wrote.

Parents were advised to contact schools to pick up electronic devices or other materials for virtual instruction.

Last Monday, 62 percent or roughly 4,000 students were engaged in in-person instruction among the 14 public schools in Worcester County.

Stephen Decatur High School switched to virtual instruction last Wednesday because of three positive covid-19 cases. Worcester Technical followed with its closure last Thursday.

“We were having an increase in some of our cases,” Taylor said on Monday. “They were all unrelated to in-school types of exposures.”

He added that there was a slight increase in cases between the first and second weeks of November at the county schools.

“We’re going back to Phase One, which is everyone is in virtual learning, and so we will be doing that right now until Dec. 1,” Taylor said. “In the meantime, I will be taking a look every single day at how things are, what the county and state metrics are.”

As of Tuesday, Worcester had recorded 1,377 cases since last spring, with last week marking the beginning of an upward trend in infections.

“Although kids aren’t the highest number of ones who contracted covid-19, we still have kids in our school system that were positive with covid-19,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the Dec. 1 return date “gives us some time to come back from the holidays to re-examine where we are and what’s taking place.”

Taylor said the decision to return to virtual instruction was difficult because schools are more than an institution of learning.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, pointing out that education remains the schools’ most important job, “but they’re also a place where we love kids, we take care of a handful of needs, from social, emotional, feeding, all those types of things that have to take place. And when we close, I also make sure our staff is focused on those areas as well.”

Taylor said he ensures that students have access to nutritional food either from feeding sites or deliveries.

“I worry about that as much as I worry about the instruction of young people,” he added.

With the sudden shift of instruction, Taylor reminded Worcester County families that preventing the spread of the coronavirus is a community effort.

“If we’re going to defeat this and we’re going to get back where we have our kids in school, it is more than important that our community teams with us and does three basic things,” he said. “1) Wear the mask. Wear the mask. 2) Hand washing and hygiene as well as social distancing and 3) Please do not associate or plan or get involved in large gatherings.”

As Worcester County Public Schools celebrates American Education Week this week, Taylor encouraged families to post on social media, send a note, send an email or call educators to thank them for their diligence to meet the needs of all students during these challenging times.

“This has been the hardest time on our educators, and my heart goes out to them,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them more than ever before. They have had a difficult task, first and foremost to make sure their environment is safe and healthy, and the second thing is to change their instruction in ways that they never dreamed, or I dreamed or my team dreamed possible.

“I hope our community joins me in thanking teachers for what they’re doing,” he continued. “Even though this has been very challenging for me as a superintendent, I’ve never been more proud to be an educator and watch the educators who are working every single day to help our young people.”

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