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Baltimore County Schools Postpone Plan To Reopen Four Schools For Disabled

John Lee

The COVID-19 positivity rate is rising in Baltimore County. For that reason, the school system announced Wednesday it will not open four schools for severely disabled students November 16 as planned. They were going to be the first county schools to reopen since school buildings were closed statewide in March.

This will have a ripple effect across the entire county school system.

Last week, the school board had directed administrators to come up with a plan to bring Kindergarten through 2nd grade students back to classrooms November 30. School officials now say they will plan to reopen schools again only after two weeks of improving COVID numbers.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams and Chief of School Climate and Safety Michael Zarchin said, “As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, we will monitor our metrics on a daily basis in coordination with the Baltimore County Department of Health and make adjustments as necessary, always keeping health and safety foremost in our minds.”

On Wednesday, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Baltimore County was 4.4% and has been rising. According to the statement from the school system, BCPS staff will implement its reopening plan when the county positivity rate is 5 percent or lower and the number of cases per 100,000 residents is below 15.

A school system spokesman did not return a call requesting further explanation.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski agreed with the decision to not reopen the four schools in less than two weeks.

“I think following the data and science here is a wise decision given where the numbers are,” Olszewski said.

Last Friday, the school system released a guideline it says it will follow to make decisions about when to reopen schools.

Olszewski said, “It’s so important we have those plans out there so that we can know when we can have students back as quickly and safely as possible.”

Cindy Sexton, president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, agreed with the decision to put the brakes on reopening, citing the rising COVID numbers.

Sexton said she expects the union membership will be split.

“I’m quite certain it’s going to be similar to what we continue to get,” she said. “The people who are ready to go back are going to be upset and angry, and the people who are concerned for health and other reasons will be thankful.”

School officials wanted to start the reopening process with the four schools for disabled students because they are the ones in most need of hands on, in person instruction. However, school board members had questioned whether they were the right students to lead the way reentering classrooms, because many of them have underlying medical conditions and cannot tolerate wearing masks.

The teachers’ union and the school administration have been negotiating the return of staff to the four schools, Ridge Ruxton, Battle Monument, Maiden Choice and White Oak. Teachers originally were going to report November 2. That was delayed a week while the negotiations continued. With Wednesday’s decision, teachers returning to any classrooms has been delayed indefinitely.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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