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Tale Of Two School Systems: City Starts To Open While County Remains Closed

John Lee

The head of the Baltimore City school system said she is pleased with how things are going so far with the reopening this week of more than two dozen schools.

Meanwhile, all schools in Baltimore County remain closed. The chief of the Baltimore County Schools said when it comes to COVID-19, much remains unknown.

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams appeared separately on WYPR’s Midday Wednesday.

School buildings statewide were closed in March at the beginning of the pandemic.

On Monday, the city reopened 27 school buildings. Santelises said she has visited some of the classrooms.

“It’s great to see kids back, and see kids back safely,” Santelises said.

The partial reopening focuses on the city’s most vulnerable students. Santelises said in one class, she met a special education student who had not logged in once for virtual learning since September.

Santelises said, “The teacher was smiling with eyes through the mask as well as the student when he said to me, ‘it’s just good to see him back in class.'”

Santelises said they are hearing from more parents who want their children back in the classroom.

“We know that the best place for students to be is in-person learning,” Santelises said. “We want to give families a choice. We know that not all families are comfortable.”

Baltimore County had attempted to open four schools for severely disabled students this week, but pulled back when the number of COVID cases in the county increased dramatically. On Wednesday, the county’s positivity rate was at 6.8%.

“A lot of this is just the unknown,” said Williams. “From March to now there’s been a lot of learning from our health experts. There’s been a lot of data that’s been shared. There’ve been modifications of plans.”

Williams said county families are split over whether students should return to classrooms or continue only virtual learning.

“I think that is going to continue until we have a vaccine, until we can bring back all of our kids,” Williams said.

The teachers unions in both the city and the county have opposed reopening, arguing it’s too risky. Many teachers either fall into one of the at-risk groups or care for someone who does.

Santelises said coronavirus is not being spread in the classroom.

“We do not have in-school transmission,” Santelises said. It’s happening in the community.”

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