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More than 2,000 COVID cases in Baltimore County Public Schools

Seth Sawyers/flickr

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Baltimore County Public Schools has tripled.

Last week there were 2,087 cases according to data from the school system. That compares with 695 cases that were reported the week before the winter break.

Half of those positive cases, more than 1,000, are in the county’s elementary schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 17.6% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated in the U.S.

17 of the county’s 175 schools are temporarily closed and those students are back to learning virtually. School closings are based on a variety of factors including the number of positive cases.

Billy Burke, the executive director of CASE, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, the union that represents principals and other administrators, told the school board Tuesday it’s a double whammy that is closing some schools.

“The staffing shortages, in addition to the absences created by COVID, sometimes make it unsafe for students to learn in person. It’s a matter of safety,” Burke said.

There are more than 650 unfilled jobs in the county schools.

The school board also heard from those who want all students to switch to virtual learning and others who want to keep buildings open.

JaNel Alston, who has three children in the county schools, asked the school board for a two week pause in in-person instruction countywide.

Alston questioned the current definition of in-person learning.

She asked the board, “Does this include pulling para-educators and central office staff from their normal duties to cover classes? Does this include combining multiple classes in auditoriums and gymnasiums with substitutes? Does it include having students arrive hours late or not at all because bus drivers are also affected by this surge? These are all things that have already happened this year.”

But Julie Wissman, who has two children in the schools, pleaded with the board to keep schools open.

“We must learn to live with this virus,” Wissman said. “This virus will not magically disappear if you shut schools for one week, two weeks or longer. As we have seen after a full year of school closures, we did not magically get rid of the virus.”

School officials have said that most of the COVID cases in school buildings came from outside in the community, not in classrooms.

Baltimore County’s COVID positivity rate is more than 25%.

Officials say closing school buildings is a last resort.

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