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Message from the Superintendent: Prioritizing In-Person Learning

December 22nd, 2021

The following statement was issued by HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano on Dec. 22, 2021:

Our winter break is fast approaching, and I hope you and your family enjoy a relaxing break and rewarding times with family and friends. The collaboration of our community is one of HCPSS’ greatest assets, and has been more essential than ever while so many families continue to struggle throughout the pandemic. I want you to know how much I appreciate your partnership and support in nurturing and educating our children, especially during such a difficult time.

As we near the end of 2021, COVID-19 continues to impact many people across the world. The recent rise in positive cases that has affected the nation is being reflected in many of our school communities. This has created challenges for our schools and anxiety in many of our students, staff and families. I want to provide additional insights into our efforts to keep schools open for fully in-person instruction.

Prioritizing In-Person Instruction

Our focus continues to be on keeping school buildings open for instruction, even if that means temporarily suspending other activities in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. Closing school buildings is a last resort.

To that end, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) provided clarification to local school districts and the community on December 20, 2021. Their message states, “Only on a case-by-case basis under the most exigent of circumstances and in close consultation with State and local health departments will MSDE support a temporary transition of a school system to virtual learning with guardrails in place that ensure students have access to a connected learning device and meaningful synchronous instruction.”

State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury added, “When COVID-19 transmission increases and health measures become a necessity, schools must be the last places to close.”

After experiencing challenges with virtual and hybrid instruction, I will do everything in my power to remain fully in-person. That being said, this pandemic has taught us to always plan for the unforeseen. Any possible return to virtual instruction would be determined by guidance from, or collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health, MSDE and/or the Howard County Health Department (HCHD).

COVID infographic

View accessible version of infographic (PDF) →

Enhancing Health Measures

We have previously shared with you multiple mitigation strategies implemented in schools in a layered approach, including universal indoor masking, a vaccine verification and testing program for staff and student-athletes, enhancements to our ventilation systems including HEPA filters in all classrooms, opportunities for outdoor lunch, and several other approaches to enhance healthy environments.

The recent rise in cases now requires that we do more. In collaboration with our partners at HCHD and following their guidance, in an effort to slow the spread at schools with the highest positivity rates we recently conducted screening testing of students and staff. These screenings helped identify and respond to positive cases in staff and students who may have been asymptomatic.

Additionally, extracurricular and other activities have been suspended at schools that are experiencing a state-defined schoolwide outbreak. I know this is disappointing to many of you, especially with holiday performances and other activities being postponed. If temporarily pausing other activities in an effort to reduce spread means we can keep school buildings open for instruction, that will always be my choice. We will allow those activities to resume as positivity rates lower and we feel that the activities won’t contribute to another rise in cases.

We will continue to evaluate our health mitigation efforts and protocols such as quarantine requirements in collaboration with the health professionals in our county and state on an ongoing basis.

Returning from Winter Break

It is incumbent upon all of us to make efforts to remain safe during the break so we may reverse the current rise in cases and return to healthy school environments. Look for opportunities where exposure can be limited, continue to wear masks indoors, and get vaccinated if you have not already done so. Students who test positive for COVID-19 during the break should isolate and not return to school until they have been out at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms or positive test without symptoms, remain fever-free for 24 hours, and show a consistent improvement of symptoms. Additionally, parents/guardians should send an email to their child’s school notifying them of a positive test upon schools reopening on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

We will continue to work closely with the health professionals in our county to assess community rates and make determinations on additional mitigation efforts that may be needed. The schools where extracurricular activities have been temporarily suspended will be reevaluated over the break and relaxed in consultation with the health department.

I hope this winter break gives you and your children many opportunities for relaxation, time with family and friends, and life’s most precious gifts: love, compassion and caring. I encourage all of you to take the time to recharge your personal batteries and enhance your mental and physical wellness, while also making efforts to remain healthy. Have a wonderful break and a happy new year.