Over this past week, I have felt compelled to reach out to our school system family.
To me, that always includes our students and their families, our teachers and staff, their families, and our Worcester County community at large.
I also felt this open letter was the best way to do so, as I wanted to be sure you were receiving my whole message, not just a small sound bite, quote, or social media post.
We know the past few weeks have shined a harsh spotlight on our school system, and for many of you, that has meant that the trust we have tried so hard to build with you has been tested like it never has been before.
Worcester County Public Schools is under this microscope because we find ourselves in the unique situation of remaining open for in-person learning while school systems all around us are closing due to covid-19 community metrics.
This comparison to those around us has led to speculation that we are not being transparent about coronavirus in our schools.
As a teacher at heart, I believe the best way to address rumors and speculation is with education based on fact, so I want to take this time to explain the protocols and notification procedures we have established in consultation with health officials and by using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
First and foremost, we value the health and safety of our students and staff above all else. Period.
The suggestion that we are not carrying the weight of keeping the thousands of students in our care and the nearly 1,200 employees across our county safe during a pandemic is wholeheartedly not true. However, we know that it is possible to keep our students and staff safe while still providing our families with the option of in-person learning.
To continue to do this, we must rely on everyone to do their part. Stopping the spread of covid-19 isn’t just the work of the school system; it is the responsibility of every single person in our community.
To keep one another safe, we all must commit to the four preventative practices that keep our schools and community safe: wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distancing whenever possible, checking for symptoms each and every day, and staying home when you’re sick.
These four practices are the pillars that have helped protect our students and staff from being exposed to covid-19 within our schools.
We have ensured that all instructional spaces are designed with physical distancing in mind. This coupled with our daily screening tools for students and staff and the mandatory use of face coverings have largely minimized exposure within our schools.
However, we know we are not immune to this pandemic. As students or staff report covid-19-like illness or symptoms, we continue to conduct thorough contact tracing.
Should a positive test result occur, we can readily assist the Health Department in their tracing efforts with accurate and specific data.
Additionally, by following our contact tracing protocol, we have been able to pinpoint any exposures, enabling our schools to remain open.
As we continue to navigate this new landscape, I want to address what seems to be at the top of everyone’s minds: our notification procedures for covid-19 or covid-19-like illness (CLI) in our schools.
Just as we protect the health and safety of our students and staff, protecting their privacy is also a top priority. To expand on our contact tracing protocol above, our notification process goes beyond notifying those close contacts.
Our protocol calls for us to notify any individuals in the affected cohort of the case. To illustrate with an example, should we have a case in a classroom, the entire class and if the child rode a bus, those groups would be notified of the case, but the communication will differ based on whether they were a close contact or not.
This process is one that the health department has affirmed as the appropriate way to notify while still respecting the privacy of the ill individual.
If you have any questions about our covid-19 response protocols, please visit our website homepage, www.worcesterk12.org, which we have redesigned to put information on our protocols right at your fingertips.
Now, I would like to address the concern that has plagued our school system for a significant period of time over the past two weeks: our connectivity.
That our internet connectivity experienced outages and slow speeds last week and the week prior was unacceptable, and I genuinely cannot express how sorry we are for the frustration everyone has felt as a result of it.
While we believe that this particular outside issue with our provider networkMaryland is near being resolved, this process of investigation has exposed some opportunities for us to further stabilize our technology infrastructure, and we are working hard to design a long-term solution.
Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to thank our teachers.
As I often share with them, I have never been so proud of our educators as I am today. They are working harder than ever; they are bridging the divide between our students in-person and those learning from home.
They are investing so much of their personal time to better their professional practice, so our students get the very best education possible. They are a source of comfort and stability for our students.
They are a voice of reassurance for families. In a word, the teachers in Worcester County are extraordinary.
Next week is American Education Week, a week when we normally celebrate the incredible work of our public schools and teachers nationwide. It also marks the opening of nominations for our annual Teacher of the Year program.
So while we are not able to physically welcome you into our schools to celebrate American Education Week, you can show our teachers that you see the challenges before them, that you believe in them, and that you care for and support them. So please, take a moment and celebrate our teachers, during American Education Week, and every day beyond that. They deserve it.
Louis H. Taylor
Superintendent of Schools