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Message from the Superintendent, Jan. 7, 2022

January 7th, 2022

The following statement was issued by HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano on Jan. 7, 2022:

As we start the new calendar year, I want to acknowledge that 2022 is already off to an uncertain start. With weather closings and delays, changing CDC guidelines, anxiety about the spread of the omicron variant and an uncertain outlook for what lies ahead, most of us are feeling whiplashed after so many difficult months, as well as deep disappointment that we are still in the midst of this public health crisis.

Change has been the single constant throughout nearly two years of living with COVID-19. We have repeatedly needed to shift as health guidance has evolved and new variants have emerged. Adjusting our protocols and practices to ensure successful instruction continues has required daily coordination internally and with our external partners at the Howard County Health Department.

Our response to this pandemic has consistently prioritized in-person education and support for our children, which is why we have spent considerable time and resources to plan and implement multiple mitigation strategies, as recommended by public health and indoor environmental quality experts. We have implemented layers of protection in our school buildings to exceed ventilation standards, maintain universal masking, and provide outdoor lunch spaces at every school.

Many staff and families have reached out about a possible switch to virtual learning. I want to be clear: The quality of supports our students receive virtually is not ideal in comparison to those they receive in person. Local and national health and education leaders have all stressed the importance of in-person education to continue. Secondary transmission of COVID-19 in schools has been low compared to community transmission. Our local Health Officer, Dr. Maura Rossman, noted that even when all schools were closed during the past two weeks, cases have surged and that schools may be a safer place for students since mitigation strategies are layered and can be enforced.

While virtual instruction may become unavoidable for certain classes, cohorts or schools, it is a complex decision and requires careful review and consideration. I meet with my leadership team daily to review school-by-school data, talk to school administrators about operational concerns, and address any challenges related to staffing or resources. If a decision is made to temporarily transition to virtual learning at any point, this will be communicated centrally as well as by the impacted schools. It is likely that a day or two of transition may be needed to enable staff to shift lessons to virtual instruction, ensure every student has access to a device at home, and arrange meals and other services.

I remain steadfast in knowing that together we will continue to persevere through these difficult times. Vaccines and boosters remain the most effective tools available to keep infected persons out of the hospital, and have made symptoms relatively mild for those experiencing infections. If you or your child has not already been fully vaccinated, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.

Thank you for your partnership, commitment and support.