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Baltimore public schools ramp up teacher hiring, tackle new year with COVID-19

Baltimore County Public Schools hosted Early Entry Day on August 25th for rising sixth and ninth grade students.
Baltimore County Public Schools
Baltimore County Public Schools hosted Early Entry Day on August 25th for rising sixth and ninth grade students.

As classes begin Monday across the Baltimore region, school officials said they have significantly reduced the number of teacher vacancies. Both the city and county school systems are moving employees around to cover classes as well as hiring new teachers. As of late last week, Baltimore City Public Schools still had 225 teacher vacancies across the district.

“It’s probably lower, but we are not checking every day,” said Sherry Christian, spokesperson for the city public school system.

Baltimore County Public Schools had fewer than 200 openings for teachers. Earlier in the summer both school systems reported far higher numbers.

Part of the solution has been shifting employees, like deploying more people from the two school systems’ headquarters into the classrooms.

Christian said they also are “focusing on substitutes and retirees” to fill open teacher slots.

But both the city and the county have been hiring new teachers as well.

County school superintendent Darryl Williams said the nationwide teacher shortage has changed the game.

“When I was a young teacher, hiring only took place around the spring and summer. Now we have to be hiring all year,” Williams said.

Earlier this month, Williams said he met with 750 newly hired educators and the enthusiasm about the start of school was running rampant.

“I’m excited to see students coming into our buildings, getting to meet other students, getting to meet their staff, their teachers,” Williams said.

The county school system also continues to look for other types of employees as well. They need more cafeteria workers. They are also grappling with a shortage of bus drivers; the county school district warned parents that some buses will be late even for the first day of school. County Council members have repeatedly called Williams to task for no-show buses. It prompted a majority of council members to ask the school board to launch a nationwide search for a possible replacement for Williams. His contract expires at the end of next June.

Monday is also the first day of classes for students in Howard County. Some students in Anne Arundel County will be in class as well while others will start on Tuesday.

Students in Frederick County began school Aug. 17. Harford County School Public Schools will get under way on Sept. 6.

Students and staff returning to classes will find relaxed guidelines when it comes to being protected from COVID-19. Gone are requirements to wear masks. In both the city and the county in Baltimore, anyone exposed to someone with COVID no longer has to be quarantined as long as they are asymptomatic.

Vaccines for school-aged children were still being developed when school started last year. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone six months and older get the COVID-19 vaccine. Boosters are recommended for everyone five years and older.

“That’s the game changer,” said Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch. “But if people don’t get vaccinated then they’re still in that same vulnerable state.”

Branch said the county continues to offer clinics where anyone can get a COVID vaccine for free.

Branch said it’s critical for parents to keep their children home when they are not feeling well.

“I know historically people have said if the child has a little bit of a fever and they’re sneezing and they’re coughing, and then what they do is they give them a little Motrin or Tylenol and send them to school anyway,” he said. “What we are asking is please do not do that. If your child is under the weather, they should remain home from school and that will decrease the spread of any type of viral infection, including COVID.”

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