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Clock Ticking For Baltimore County Schools To Stockpile PPE

AP Photo/John Raoux

Last fall, Jennifer Lynch was the principal at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville. She was happy when County Executive Johnny Olszewski, using CARES money, offered each county school $100 per child to spend on PPE.

“We were able to buy air purifiers, sanitizers, masks and gowns and gloves,” Lynch said. “We focused on purchasing plexiglass guards for the children’s desks and for other common areas.”

Fast forward a few months and she’s no longer a principal. She works for Olszewski as the county’s director of educational partnership, a liaison between the administration and the school system.

She’s keeping track of the PPE coming in for all the county schools. And with the school system less than three weeks away from returning some children to the classroom, she says only about 25% of it has been delivered thus far.

Lynch said, “All of the schools will receive at least a portion of their order prior to February 26”

Students in Pre-K through 2nd grade and at the county’s four schools for the physically disabled have the option to begin hybrid learning the week of March 1.  Students in other grades can return later in March and early April. Lynch said those schools that are opening first will be at the front of the line for PPE.

County spokesman Sean Naron said two-thirds of elementary schools and the four schools for the disabled have gotten some portion of their PPE.

Tom DeHart, the executive director of CASE, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees which represents principals and other administrators, said items are on backorder.

“You can imagine, we’re in competition with basically the entire country when it comes to those materials,” DeHart said.

Naron said in a statement, “Purchases began in late November on a rolling basis, based on product availability.”

In addition to the money from the county to buy personal protection equipment, the school system is purchasing PPE as well. Both DeHart and Lynch are confident the schools will have what they need.

Stockpiling PPE is one of many issues facing school officials as they prepare to bring the children and staff back safely.

This week school officials are determining which students are returning to school buildings part time for hybrid learning. Then how do you break up the returning students into safer groups, or cohorts? How do you get them to school on buses while practicing social distancing?

Superintendent Darryl Williams said he knows there is anxiety about what is to come.

Williams said, “Just like anything, we put things in motion then when you start implementing, you’re going to make some tweaks along the way.”

They’ve asked families to let them know if they want their children in hybrid learning, which means being in the classroom two days a week. That deadline has passed for the children returning the week of March 1.

If you first chose to keep your child home for full time virtual learning then change your mind and want to opt in the hybrid, Williams said that could take a week or two to sort out.

“It’s going to take a little more work to opt in than to opt out because opting in means we really have to look at the logistics,” Williams said.

Such as what group or cohort your child can safely be in as well as bus pickup.

There is also concern, raised by the teachers’ union, that some of the schools might not be properly ventilated. But Williams said they’ve been checked and if there is a problem come March 1, they will respond immediately.

“I see this almost like the first day of school again,” Williams said. “It’s starting the first day of school, again, for us on March 1 but with a small group of students and gradually bringing them back.”

Williams advises parents to contact their children’s school if they need help figuring out what to do next in this unprecedented school year.

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