Decisions Related to School System Activities Due to Rising COVID-19 Cases

Wed, 12/15/2021 - 12:10pm

Dear HCPSS Community,

Over the course of the last two weeks, since the Thanksgiving break, positive COVID-19 cases in schools have increased at an alarming rate. For reference, on Nov. 18, our seven-day total of positive COVID cases in schools was 75, with 1,151 students and 34 staff members in quarantine. As of this morning, we are nearing 300 positive COVID cases in schools just in the last three days. In addition, we currently have 3,720 students and 146 staff members in quarantine.

Throughout this pandemic, we have continued to work with the Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman and her team at the Howard County Health Department (HCHD) to review positive case rates, vaccination data, coordinate efforts, and seek guidance as we have considered decisions related to school system operations. It is absolutely essential that we do all we can to keep schools open and ensure each school remains a healthy learning environment for students and staff. The escalation in positive cases has put a strain on school health staff to accurately identify and complete close contact communications in an efficient manner. In fact, the current number of cases in many of our schools has become challenging from a notification standpoint.

In an effort to slow the spread of the virus and keep schools open, HCPSS is implementing temporary mitigation strategies, effective immediately.

The following in-person activities are suspended immediately through Jan. 15, 2022 with a reevaluation on January 7, 2022. This includes:

Athletic practices and contests
Theater rehearsals and performances
School concerts and performances
Extracurricular activities
Field trips

All activities that may move to virtual participation may do so. Schools will provide more information to students and families as these decisions are made.

Use of HCPSS indoor facilities will not be permitted for any activities except for before and after care. Schools will work with PTAs to move in-person meetings and events to a virtual format. Contracted staff who work for before- and after-care and other service providers, such as bus drivers, are still required to maintain their vaccine or testing requirement for employees and universal masking remains in place.  More information will be provided once these activities may be resumed, and schools will share new dates for scheduled performances and activities.

In addition, to assist with the rising number of positive cases, we will be working with the Howard County Health Department and our screening provider to hold COVID-19 screenings at schools, as directed by the Health Department. More information will be shared with school communities as the details are finalized for this screening opportunity.

It is critical that all families continue to monitor their child’s health each day before they leave for school and do not send your child to school if they display any symptoms of COVID-19 or other communicable diseases. Additionally, maintain masking wherever possible and get the vaccine if you haven't already.

Several months ago as we were planning for this school year, I was very clear: Not only do we want to start the 2021-2022 school year with fully in-person education for the majority of our students, we want to keep it that way for the entire year. Not for two weeks. Not for two quarters. But the entire year. This decision has been made with that singular priority in mind to keep our students in school by implementing as many possible mitigation strategies to assist.

We must all be part of the solution to stem the spread of this virus, keep schools open, and be able to participate in the social and recreational activities we all enjoy. Our actions over the course of the coming weeks can play a direct role in reducing case rates and allowing a safe return to these activities. Please do your part to keep our school communities safe, healthy and nurturing environments for all students and staff.

Michael J. Martirano Ed.D