Recently, the Howard County Public School System announced their plan for students to return to an in-person learning environment through a hybrid system. This plan involves staggering the return of students starting with priority groups on March 1. Students will return in four groups, with the last group returning on April 12. With this plan comes lots of controversy amongst students, parents, and teachers, who believe a return to school is inconsiderate and potentially dangerous.
Centennial junior, Ryan Yu has been at the forefront of the student movement against returning to the building, as his mother is an immunocompromised teacher at CHS. Yu started a petition on change.org, which is a site used to spread word of an issue that one faces and raise funds to solve said issue. His petition pushes for the school system to reconsider their plan and account for the health and safety of the administration. Yu states that his mother was not given a choice on whether she was willing to return; she will either return or resign.
Since Yu’s petition has gained traction, teachers have been given the option to telework, or in other words work from home. Although details are unclear, this would likely include a substitute being present in the classroom to monitor students as they join their google meets from inside the school building.
“Howard County set out health metrics that needed to be met to even consider the return to in-person school, however, this was entirely disregarded when the decision was made to reopen schools by March 1,” stated Yu. Here, he refers to the Howard County COVID test positivity rate over a seven day average and the seven day rolling average case rate per 100,000.
HCPSS’s health metrics state that “HCPSS will move to a virtual environment if the HCHD/MDH report: a positivity rate above 5% over a 7 day range and the 7 day rolling average case rate per 100,000 increases to 10 or greater for two consecutive weeks…” As of February 3, the positivity rate sits at 5.6% and the seven day average per 100,000 sits at 19.1, with a rate of 23.6 in the previous week. These numbers clearly do not meet HCPSS’s reopening standards.
The expectation among trusted health officials is that these numbers will drop to a standard which will allow hybrid schooling by the set return date of March 1. Although there is no way to tell how things will look in a month from now, these health officials have typically predicted the trends to near perfection.
Another concern voiced by teachers is the failure to provide each teacher with both vaccination shots before their return to the school building. Although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require different lengths of time both between shots and for the vaccine to take effect, both vaccines require roughly 5-8 weeks after the first shot until fully effective. With the current state of the reopening plan, teachers will not be given this much time before they return.
Centennial French teacher Marylynn Doff spoke out on this, saying, “We have done everything as a family to maintain our bubble and stay safe. Returning to the building without two doses of the vaccine will immediately burst that bubble… I will be worried every day that I am there.”
With the current Howard County numbers in a discouraging state, many questions have arisen about the reopening plan. “Once schools do open back up, every single school in Howard County will be another hotspot for possible outbreaks. How will schools mitigate this and keep infection rates low?” Yu asked.
Teachers will be doing their best to create safe classroom environments, with desks spread six feet apart and strict safety rules being enforced. Teachers will also attempt to keep their personal desk areas safe, and limit contact with students as much as possible. But of course, this is not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 entirely. “I plan on building a bubble within my classroom, complete with clear shower curtains and an air purifier,” mentioned Doff.
Although there are many who believe a return to school is unsafe, plenty of students county-wide are eager to return for a variety of reasons.
Yu acknowledged this by saying that “to some degree, it is necessary to return to school for students that need the extra support and school facilities. But I truly believe that the county could have approached this issue differently.” He suggests that the county could’ve created a system limiting the number of students who go back, prioritizing those who need access to certain resources such as technology or specialized teachers.
Linked below, along with HCPSS’s school reopening metrics, is Yu’s petition. “I took action because I knew it was unfair,” he said. “I know that many students and teachers voiced their concern over this exact topic to deaf ears so I wanted to give them the spotlight.” The petition is currently at roughly 4,500 signatures. At a time of discomfort for some people who may not agree with the county’s decisions, Yu’s petition was able to make a positive change.
For more information on HCPSS’s reopening plan, see the previously published article on the Wingspan site which details the specifics.
HCPSS COVID-19 Metrics: Click here
Ryan Yu’s Petition: Click here
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