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What To Expect As Baltimore County Public Schools Open On Monday

John Lee
Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams. Credit: John Lee

Baltimore County Public Schools open Monday under a state of emergency that County Executive Johnny Olszewski put in place earlier this week due to worsening COVID-19 transmission numbers.

Olszewski announced the state of emergency Tuesday, hours before school superintendent Darryl Williams briefed the school board on the start of school. And it was clear Williams didn’t know what it might mean for the school system.

Stay tuned,” Williams told the board. “I don’t have all of the particulars regarding that and how it may impact our school.”

So, putting the question to Olszewski, the answer is it won’t, at least for now.

For all intents and purposes at this point there’s no practical change in terms of the school system, but I do want to applaud Superintendent Williams and the system for taking decisive actions to keep our children safe, including my daughter who will be attending as a kindergartener next week,” Olszewski said.

What he is talking about there is the school system requiring everyone to wear masks and requiring employees to either get vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested weekly.

Baltimore County Public Schools put its mask mandate in place July 29. The Maryland State Board of Education on Thursday passed emergency legislation that will require masks in school buildings throughout the state.

Both Olszewski and Superintendent Williams said the goal is to keep children in school full time. Williams made it clear to the school board that he will not be the one closing schools if the COVID numbers go south.

BCPS will not close school buildings and move to fully virtual instruction unless ordered to do so by the government officials,” Williams said. “And if the state or county orders reduced capacity in school buildings, we have developed a plan to respond in a way that ensures high quality teaching and learning continue in a safe manner for staff and students.”

Williams gave the board an example of what might happen if a COVID outbreak occurs in a school.

If multiple groups or classes in a school are reported, working with our health experts, five day, in-person learning remains in place, contact tracing will occur and affected individuals and/or groups may be subject to quarantine and localized virtual instruction.”

If the state calls for school systems to close buildings or go to hybrid learning to cut down on the number of students in a school, Williams said Baltimore County will not return to last year’s model of having teachers work with some students learning virtually and others in the classroom at the same time, which was very difficult.

When schools reopen there will be assigned seating on school buses.

Debbie Somerville, the coordinator of the school system’s Office of Health Services, said students will get mask breaks while they are in school, pointing out they are not plastered to their faces.

Somerville said, “Mask breaks are not something where we’re all going to say, ‘let’s have a mask break,’ and we all demask, because that would be kind of counter-intuitive. It kind of unprotects all of us.”

She said mask breaks will be a comfort break like anything else in a classroom. For example, a student with an itchy nose can take off the mask for a good scratch. And masks will come off while eating lunch.

As for Olszewski’s state of emergency, for now he is taking no action on schools or anything else in the county. He said it gives him a wide range of possible actions he can take, including putting public health restrictions in place if need be.

Olszewski needs the county council’s approval for the state of emergency to last more than a week. He expects to get that at a special council meeting on Monday.

Olszewski said, “The vast majority of council members have expressed their support for having those tools available here in Baltimore County should they become necessary.”

He said he is considering requiring county employees to get vaccinated, and his administration is talking about that possibility with labor leaders.

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